Title: The Sundew
Disclaimer: I do not own these characters; J. K. Rowling does. I am writing this story for fun and not profit.
Warnings: DEATHLY HALLOWS SPOILERS, but not epilogue-compliant. Slash, obviously. Draco-centric, with some hurt/comfort.
Summary: When Draco didn't go crazy that year, it was because of a house-elf, a post owl—and a sundew.
Notes: Written in partial fulfillment of my LJ friend suonguyen's request for a Harry-pursues-Draco fic. As far as I know, I've got the basic biological details of the sundew species I chose, Drosera anglica, correct, but please feel free to correct me if you spot something missing or wrong.
July 1st, 1998
Dear Mr. Malfoy:
Due to extensive damage to Hogwarts in the final battle against You-Know-Who, we regret to say that we will not be opening the school this year. For the autumn term of 1999, however, we invite back all students who have not yet completed their wizarding education. Students who were absent during their seventh year will be invited to sit their N. E. W. T.'s in order not to deprive them of opportunities for a successful future.
Minerva McGonagall, Headmistress
The letter had come three hours ago. Draco still couldn't glance away from it for more than a few minutes, even though he'd escaped from the house as soon as he could to a bench in the gardens, where he could drop the letter and, supposedly, look at something else instead. His eyes kept coming back to the crumpled piece of parchment like a guilty secret.
Finally, he rose, balled it up deliberately, and tossed it into the goldfish pond. Then he sat down again and folded his arms. Then he decided that would look childish and rested his elbows on his knees instead, his head bowed only loosely, so that if his mother came around the corner of the hedge suddenly Draco could claim that he was just thinking, not brooding.
Hogwarts was to have been his escape from the echoing emptiness and nightmares of the Manor, now that his father had been taken back to Azkaban and his mother was driving herself mad trying to organize a legal defense for him. He didn't want to see his schoolmates and do homework, true, but it would have been something different from complicated legal terminology and Narcissa's bright, brittle certainty that her husband would be freed if she could just find the right information.
And now it was closed for another year.
Draco hadn't told his mother yet. He was sure that she would rejoice; she had not-so-secretly mourned the loss of his company.
But he couldn't take any rejoicing at the moment.
A house-elf appeared silently as he tossed pebbles into the pond; properly trained elves did not have to make their loud signature crack when Apparating, and all the Malfoy ones had been trained extensively by the need to survive in the last year. This elf was presumably the reason that the gardens looked less ragged than they should have. Draco watched dully as it carefully trimmed the grass around the water with a miniature pair of shears, then separated the real pond plants and the algae with a few waves of its hands, and dropped flakes of food for the fish, and swept dust from the benches—working carefully and respectfully around him—and plucked weeds from around the hedge and trimmed a few overreaching branches before vanishing
Draco shut his eyes. He would have given much to be that unobtrusive, that useful.
He had nowhere else to go, now that Hogwarts was closed. There still weren't many places in the wizarding world, outside the extremely heavily guarded Wizengamot courtroom where Narcissa traveled each week to plead for Lucius, where Malfoys would be welcomed, and most of his classmates' parents were keeping a careful distance. They didn't know what was going to happen in the political scheme of things any more than Draco did, and a Slytherin's natural instinct when uncertainty surrounded him was to stay still.
My father didn't have that instinct, Draco thought, running his hand over his face. Memories of the funeral he had attended earlier that summer came like blows to the head. And Professor Snape didn't, either.
Draco swallowed hard, a moment later, when he realized that he had thought of Lucius as though he were dead. And compared himself unfavorably to them, no less, when he had spent years thinking that he would achieve greater things than they ever had.
He stared at the goldfish some more, and then a post owl fluttered down and landed on the bench beside him. Draco licked his lips at the sight. Maybe they had changed their minds. Maybe Hogwarts would stay open.
But the bird, an unremarkable barn owl, bore no letter with the Hogwarts crest on it, just a bulky envelope scrawled with messy handwriting. Draco frowned in confusion and tapped it with his mother's wand before he opened it. Some people were just content to glare at him the first time he went out alone in Diagon Alley; some people would want to do more than that.
But he found no curses or hexes, though his spells told him there was something magical inside. He tugged open the flap and tipped the envelope over when it appeared the contents were stuck.
His wand rolled into his lap.
Draco stared at it dumbly. His wand. His hawthorn wand with the unicorn hair core, which he had assumed he would never see again. His fingers trembled as he picked it up, and he felt the same soft, precise connection that he had when he first grabbed it in Ollivander's shop seven years ago. Draco closed his eyes and just sat holding it for a long moment, the first reason he'd had for hoping since the end of the battle.
Then he realized who the single sheet of parchment crammed inside the envelope must be from.
He thought of wadding it up unread and tossing it into the fish pond after the other. Maybe the house-elf would reappear and clean it up just as he'd cleaned up the Hogwarts letter. But no, contact with the outside world was too precious and rare to give up. Gingerly, wondering if he could bear to read a half-blood's handwriting, Draco picked up the parchment and turned it over.
Dear Malfoy, the letter began, as though he had ever given the writer permission to address him that way,
I wanted to thank you for the loan of your wand—
Draco sneered as he remembered the way Potter had snatched the wand. A loan it certainly was not.
And send it back to you. I don't need it anymore. I also wanted to ask you how you were, since Hermione reminded me that you wouldn't get out much.
So. How are you?
Draco looked at the letter in disbelief for some minutes. It was bad enough that Potter had given him his wand back for no discernible reason, but to know that he was the object of pity for a Mudblood—
Of course, she had won, hadn't she? And it wasn't her father who had gone to prison.
Draco did indeed wad up the letter and toss it in the fish pond, and watched with what he told himself was no special emotion as the house-elf appeared with a slight, distressed squeak and fished it out. It was enough that he had his wand back, and could start to feel like a whole wizard instead of half of one. He had no reason to respond to Potter's stupid letter.
The post-owl hooted at him and flapped its wings in agitation. Probably it had been told to wait for a reply. Draco used his wand to fling stones at it until it went away.
Draco couldn't stay in his bedroom because he'd seen the Dark Lord's snake eat two people there, and it was at night that he'd done most of his coerced torturing, so he already had trouble sleeping. He spent a lot of time roaming the corridors of the Manor, looking into empty rooms—always spotlessly clean, of course, since the elves had the run of the house again—and staring out into the gardens. He could have gone into the library or the study and furthered the day's legal research, but he wasn't inclined.
The truth had begun to gnaw at him with slow teeth and a gut full of endless patience. No matter what legal arguments and loopholes and exceptions his mother found, no matter how many Galleons she flung, she wasn't going to get his father free.
Lucius had said once that the worst time to try and bribe Ministry officials was in the wake of a war, because they were feeling solemn and righteous then and would actually not want money so much as extra excuses to be solemn and righteous. Draco was seeing the truth of it now.
Of course, I don't think that he thought he would ever be in prison in the wake of a war, he thought, his chin resting on his arms, where were resting on a windowsill, which looked off across the end of the Manor estates, where the neat lawns blended into an endless tangle of wood that had been old when the Norman conquerors came. He avoided it once. And he believed the Dark Lord was going to win.
Draco could not think of a world where that had happened—a world more horrible than his year in the Manor under the Dark Lord's control. His mind shut down in self-defense when he tried.
He yawned, and was just thinking of going into the study after all, if only to catch a short, nightmare-plagued nap on the sofa, when a flutter of wings brushed his face. He turned and beheld what seemed to be the very same post owl who had delivered his wand a few days ago. In fact, he'd almost fired a spell at it.
His memories had left him a bit…jumpy.
He hesitated, then reached out and caressed the feathers of the owl's wing. It was real, and soft, and downy. The owl, like all properly trained post birds, let him touch it without objection, and then hopped forwards and held out the letter rather insistently. Draco took it. Then the owl switched legs and offered yet another package.
Draco opened the letter first.
Dear Draco, said the salutation, and for a moment his breath caught; he was sure the letter would be from Blaise or Pansy. But no, it was Potter's messy handwriting, Potter's endless scrawl, Potter's half-dotless i's. Draco shook his head. Couldn't the git just give him up and leave him alone in his sullen solitude?
But he read the letter anyway.
I keep thinking about you. You didn't reply to me, even to tell me to sod off. And I don't know why, but that caught my attention. Maybe it's just because so many other people want to talk to me and silence is so rare around me right now.
"My heart breaks for you, it really does, Potter," Draco said aloud, and though the owl twisted its head in a quizzical manner, the words made him feel better.
So I wanted to know what you're doing, what you're thinking, whether you're going to come back to Hogwarts next autumn, whether you actually have anyone to care for you. I don't know why I want to know the answers. I just do. And I think I'm all right with not getting the answers immediately now—but I still want the truth.
I sent you a gift. Neville has them growing in his gardens. He says they're dead easy to care for—you just set them up somewhere they can get sun and insects. That's important. I hope you'll enjoy it.
Draco went on staring at the letter and rereading again long after he'd finished, absolutely baffled. What did Potter want from him? He demanded an answer, but he didn't think it worthwhile to show up at the Manor himself and require one. It was as though Draco was a diversion to fill up the corners of his days, and no more than that. And Draco refused to be that for anyone.
Still, he unwrapped the package.
Inside was an extremely odd-looking plant, with a bunch of spiky leaves standing up straight, like a fern or a dandelion, except that they were red. The whole thing glistened as though someone had just soaked it with water. A few white flowers strained above the whole, seemingly attempting to preserve their dignity. It seemed to stand lightly in its pot, and Draco thought the roots didn't go very deep. A poke revealed that the soil was covered with a thin layer of water, enchanted to stay in place.
He cast a Summoning Charm, and a small fly that he had heard blundering about the room earlier, ignoring the open window, smacked into his palm. Draco lowered it above the plant and then released it.
The fly blundered about a moment more, then landed on the plant as though it would drink the water clinging to the leaves. Then it started a frantic buzzing. Draco looked closer. Its legs and one wing had got trapped in the liquid and it couldn't get out.
And then the plant quivered, and started folding inwards. In a few moments, it had the insect firmly trapped, wrapped in more leaves and more dew. Draco stared, fascinated.
He finally remembered why the plant looked familiar. Professor Sprout had given a short lecture during one Herbology lesson on carnivorous plants, including some natural ones that had been bred into magical species. Draco remembered the details because he had spent a bit of time dreaming of creating a species that would trap and feed on Mudbloods.
This was a sundew.
Apparently Potter was too busy to say that in his letter. And he'd sent a patronizing gift, even a disgusting one, even a threat, maybe, as if to say that he could swallow Draco up in his power and prestige just like the sundew could swallow insects.
But it was still a gift. A little living thing to share the house with, one that knew nothing at all about Lucius's trial. Draco wouldn't have admitted his thoughts to anyone for a hundred Galleons, but that was reason enough to keep it.
He still sent no reply back, though, much to the owl's displeasure.
Draco put the sundew on the windowsill of his old bedroom. He hated the sight of the bed, and kept his back turned to it the whole time, but it was the sunniest room in the house.
He waited until a house-elf appeared to dust the furniture and change the unused sheets, and took such a sudden step forwards that the little creature squeaked and fell over himself. Draco thought it was the same one that had cleaned the goldfish pond, but he couldn't be sure, because whoever knew with house-elves?
"That," he said firmly, pointing at the sundew and glad Potter wasn't here to hear how fiercely he was defending his patronizing gift, "is mine. You are not to throw it out." The elf nodded frantically, his ears flopping. He had a bulbous nose, half-flattened across his face, that wrinkled with every change of expression, mostly from fear to terror. "You are to bring it insects every day, unless it has something caught in its leaves when you come here. Do you understand me?"
"Yes, Master Malfoy," said the elf, bowing, and then obviously thought fit to volunteer some information. "Lozzy has been tending the gardens for a hundred years, Master Malfoy, sir. Lozzy knows how to take good care of plants!"
"Oh," Draco said loftily, concealing his startlement that the elf had worked in the Manor all his life and he hadn't recognized him. "Well, this one needs special care, do you understand me? I shall be extremely upset if it dies."
And he realized with a start that that was true, damn it. Potter had given him his wand back, but that was only returning a possession to its rightful owner. This was the first thing that anyone had given Draco of their own free will in—years.
It had to stay.
He didn't want to examine his own feelings on that matter too closely, so he didn't. It had to stay, so it was staying.
He took one more look at the dew glistening on the leaves, and then left for another tedious day of trying to find the secret vault key that his mother believed would unlock all her problems.
Another week, another fruitless session in front of the Wizengamot, who only listened and told them to come back next week, and another letter from Potter. Draco took it into his bedroom to read it. It was brilliant daylight, banishing the demons; his mother was in a….mood; and he wanted to look at the sundew.
It was flourishing. The flowers had risen a centimeter or so higher since Draco had owned it. It was currently in the middle of a ferocious battle, having caught a dragonfly, which was still struggling even as the leaves bent relentlessly inwards, large wings making the pot wobble. Draco kept one eye on it as he read the letter, ready to dart out a hand and crush whatever vital part of the dragonfly's anatomy he needed to in order to spare his sundew.
I feel like I can call you that even though you never gave me permission to. You haven't responded so far, so why not take that as permission? You might not write back to me. It's almost freeing, to speak into silence.
But I don't feel like it's someone I know on the other end. You were always a stranger to me. I feel like I never knew why you always felt there was a sworn rivalry between us, and then I did experience that rivalry and intense need to know about you from the other side, but I found out the reason. And then the knowledge was there, but the curiosity hadn't died.
Draco swallowed. Potter would bring that up, of course. He was not sure which had been worse in terms of gut-tightening terror, actually, his sixth year at Hogwarts or what should have been his seventh. He'd seen much more death and horror in his seventh, but at least he'd had his parents for company.
So I want to know about you. What are you doing with your unexpected year of freedom? What are you like now? How did the war change you? Did you keep the sundew, or did you throw it out the window, pot and all?
If there's anything you want to know about me, feel free to ask.
A black fury rose up in Draco, and he roared with laughter because there was nothing else to do. He bowed his head, angry tears gathering in the corners of his eyes. Potter thought this was a year of freedom?
He shouted for Lozzy.
The house-elf appeared, brought him the ink and parchment he demanded, and then came back with a fly clutched in his long fingers. He hesitated, though, when he saw the dragonfly, and settled back to observe the sundew, as though he thought it would require more nourishment immediately after it ate the first meal.
Draco wrote. He hadn't been able to write letters even when he wanted to, before, but now the words sprang easily from his quill.
Potter, you idiot, what makes you think I want to tell you anything? You think this is a year of freedom. This is hell. I stay in the Manor with only my mother for company, and once a week I get to have the fun of going to the Ministry and pleading for my father's freedom, when I know they won't give it to us, but I can't say that to Mother or she'll curl up like that dragonfly's doing as—
Draco hesitated. He had been about to write your sundew, but not even in an angry letter could he hand ownership of the plant back to Potter. And, well, why should he? Potter had given it to him to do as he liked with, and had even thought he might kill it, which only showed he didn't know Draco at all, which meant that he wouldn't be reading small nuances into the words Draco used. Reassured, Draco started writing again.
my sundew kills it. And you think your offer of reciprocal knowledge is supposed to make me feel all better? Really, Potter, I'm so touched.
He deliberately signed his surname much larger than the first name, so Potter would take the hint, and then looked up to shout for Lozzy. But the barn owl was waiting, and snatched the letter from him before Draco could so much as put it into an envelope. Draco stood up and shouted ineffectually after it, but the owl simply vanished out the window with a gleeful little waggle of her tail feathers.
Draco sat back in his chair with a huff, quickly turning his head so he couldn't see the bed. And then he felt a faint smile cross his lips.
The sundew had won its battle with the dragonfly.
Potter's reply came the next day, and had only one enigmatic sentence on it.
You kept the sundew.
Draco stared at it and tried to imagine all the ways those words could be spoken: taunting, gloating, patronizing, welcoming. But in the end, he didn't know, and Potter had made him an offer that, with his ridiculous Gryffindor honesty, he'd probably meant.
What does that mean, you ridiculous git?
He didn't bother signing his name, since Potter wasn't going to, and since the barn owl was hopping up and down in front of him like a small child who had to go to the loo. At least he got to put it in an envelope this time.
"Draco?" Narcissa called up the stairs, her voice cracking in the middle the way it always did now when raised. She had a permanent sob there, Draco thought, wincing internally. "Come down here. I want you to help me find mention of a law called Hobson's Exception."
Draco took one more look at his sundew before he left the room. The book he'd found on them, tucked in the very back of the Manor's library, had said briefly that sundews didn't need bees or any other insects to pollinate them; they could fertilize themselves, and would produce their own seeds. Draco knew what they looked like now, and would watch for them.
Just that you can care for something besides yourself.
Once again, a week and a half later this time, Potter had sent just that one line. Draco pondered that, while he lay on the bed—it didn't seem so horrible, with the sunlight falling through the window and Lozzy carefully repacking the mossy soil around his sundew and the barn owl preening her tail on the edge of the blankets as though nothing horrible had ever happened here—and held the letter above his face so he could see it more easily.
His sundew had seeds. They were black and very small, but he'd seen them with a few magnifying spells the other day.
Once again, the thought crossed his mind that Potter had meant something horrible with the gift, perhaps to grow an army of Draco-devouring plants, but he shook his head. No, Potter wasn't clever enough to think up something like that.
But Draco was finding himself more and more curious about the Gryffindor git who continued to send him letters, who had sent him a third letter even when he didn't receive an answer to the first two, and then had mysteriously cut back on his amount of words as soon as Draco took him seriously. What sort of person was he? And why would he act as though he cared about Draco's suffering? What would it gain him, since Draco would refuse any invitation to come out of the Manor and be humiliated?
One thing that post-war reality had taught Draco already: the name of Malfoy meant little or nothing to anyone anymore. Politics were starting to sort themselves out, and they were all on the side of the people who hadn't followed the Dark Lord. Kingsley Shacklebolt, whom rumors said had been very close to Dumbledore, was Minister, and had promised to root corruption out of the Ministry. Knowing Dumbledore, Draco thought Shacklebolt might really mean it.
And of course, under such a Minister, the cell doors in Azkaban would stay shut.
Draco felt bitterness like heartburn. He lay there until it went away, and his hands holding Potter's letter above his head had started to tremble. Then he shook his head slightly. No, Potter couldn't hope to gain an advantage by talking to him. And redeeming one person back to the side of "good" wasn't such a big deal when he had former Death Eaters throwing themselves at his feet now, eager to confess their crimes and have a second chance. Draco knew Pansy's parents had gone to Potter even though they'd only supported the Dark Lord in a quiet way.
It was a mystery.
Maybe he should try honesty.
Draco felt a small, wintry smile touch his lips as he went to fetch ink and parchment from the desk in the corner. Coming from him, Potter would probably find the most genuine answer to be a devious Slytherin ploy.
What's this about, Potter, really? You can tell me. And for the sake of your maybe giving me an answer, I'll paint you a true picture of life in the Manor.
My mother is totally focused on getting my father free of Azkaban. It's her obsession. She speaks day and night of what Lucius is going to do when he's back, what changes he'll make to the Manor—even though she could order them herself just by talking to the house-elves—and what I'll do after Hogwarts. Politics, of course. I don't tell her that I've had enough of politics to last me the rest of my life; she literally can't hear me.
My days are spent in research, too, because what else do I have to do? I won't use my N.E.W.T.'s for anything even if I do take them. I'll just come home after Hogwarts and lead a dull, spiritless life here in the Manor. Eventually, I'll marry, and I think my wife and I will be polite to each other. Then I'll raise children I'll tell all about the glory days of the Malfoys, and I'll lay the burden on their shoulders to restore that glory, since I'm incapable of doing it myself. And I'll see them through Hogwarts, and maybe watch them rear up grandchildren—if I don't kill myself of boredom before then, that is.
How's your life?
He was rather proud of the casual sarcasm of that last line, and the daring of leaving his first name there, unshielded by the Malfoy. He gave the letter to the owl and went to cast the magnifying spells on his sundew again. It was eating another fly, but Draco could still see the seeds, bobbing promises of life.
October, and the Wizengamot had told his mother that Lucius would never be freed.
Draco had to call the house-elves to restrain her. And then he had to force a little wine between her lips, and a Calming Draught when that did no good, and sit beside her, holding her hand and talking softly to her, until she slipped into sleep. Her dignity was shattered. Draco thought that might be the source of the ache when he looked at her: that he could see no trace of his strong, proud mother in this woman's wrecked face.
He retreated to his bedroom when she was decently asleep. The bed no longer haunted him with visions of big-bellied snakes. And the window, besides containing his sundew, looked out over the part of the garden that he'd asked Lozzy to transform into a miniature swamp, with the kind of decaying ground and sphagnum moss that sundews thrived on. He watched the house-elf happily and busily at work pouring in water and enriching the soil with calcium; the Muggle books he'd discreetly ordered had said that English sundews, which was what he grew, could tolerate calcium, even though some other species couldn't.
He was not about to lose his seeds just because he couldn't exactly replicate the pot and the soil that his sundew had arrived in.
As he watched Lozzy work and the sundew struggle with a damselfly, another odd ache began to grow above his heart, separate from the pain that watching his mother caused. Draco thought, If a stranger were watching us—Lozzy and my sundew and me—which would they say were worth something, and which would they say was useless?
Draco closed his eyes. Swift tears were there.
He didn't want to be useless. He wanted something to do, quietly and necessarily, like Lozzy and his sundew. Something that wouldn't waste his time, but would help him add something to the world, even if that something was as small as sundew seeds.
It wasn't very ambitious. On the other hand, he thought it might be the best ambition he'd ever had in his life—certainly much better than wanting to beat Potter in Quidditch.
As if the thought of Potter had summoned her, the barn owl landed on the windowsill beside him. She had learned not to disturb his sundew after Draco had seriously tried to hex her for it the last time. Draco blinked, and took the letter from her. It had been so long since Potter had written that Draco had thought he'd given up, or else that his unusual honesty last time had frightened his correspondent off.
Not so. This letter was longer than any of the others.
I'm so sorry that I haven't written earlier. I would say that I had too much to do, but that isn't true. The truth was that I was afraid. I didn't know what to say to you, how to respond. I could offer to come to the Manor, but I don't think you'd want that. And you probably still hate me, since you have no real reason to change your mind.
Maybe this letter will give you one.
I have no idea what to say about your mother. I didn't know that she'd take your father's imprisonment that way. She seemed so calm, so collected, the few times I met her. She saved my life when Voldemort wanted me dead, did you know that? She asked me if you were alive, and I said that you were and in the castle. So she claimed that his Killing Curse had successfully slain me. Obviously, it didn't. We won the war because she lied for me. If I can do anything to help, if you'll let me, then tell me.
I—saw you a few times last year, you know. I had a mental connection to Voldemort, and I could see him forcing you to torture people. I know you didn't want to. I think that was the seed of my conviction that you could be all right, and that it was worthwhile writing to you even if you just responded with silence. Anyone who can show his reluctance that openly in front of a madman, while knowing the madman might just torture him, too, is more of a good person than anyone else knows—or maybe, ever gave him credit for.
And I saw you at Snape's funeral, too. That look of utter devastation. I'm sorry. I sat here for five minutes, trying to think of something less sentimental and more helpful to write, but I couldn't. I'm glad that he had at least one person who loved him. I have reason to know—I can't tell you how yet, but if we meet face-to-face, I can—that he lost his best friend at fifteen because of a stupid mistake, and spent the rest of his life trying to find someone to replace that loss. I hope he knew. About you, I mean.
I want to know you better. Don't ask me why, with all these people who think my attention ought to be on them, it fixed on you. But it did. You're the interesting one. You're the one I find myself thinking about long after I ought to be asleep, and sometimes I wake up in the morning and just assume you're—there. In the bed with me, I mean. And there's about seven people who would kill me if they saw that. Maybe eight, counting you. But that's what I feel.
I want to know you better. Will you tell me, please? And if there's anything I can do for you? I want to know.
Draco closed his eyes. It was a long time before he reached for ink and quill and parchment, and then his hand shook and he blotted the paper five times until he forced himself to lean back, take a deep breath, and count to two hundred.
One thing he was absolutely sure of: given his mother's condition and his own, there was no one else he wanted to meet right now. Including Potter. Maybe especially not him.
I don't know what to say to most of that. So I'll just say a few simple things.
No, I don't want help with my mother right now. She just learned that Father has no chance of coming out of Azkaban alive. If he dies soon, it will be a mercy. I have to be alone to help her. She doesn't want to see anyone but me and house-elves, anyway.
I'm in a stage where I don't want to see anyone, either. I don't know what—I don't want to say anything to your wanting me in your bed. But I'm going to find something to do, and I'm going to do it well. It'll be something useful. I don't know what, yet. But it will be. And I have to be alone to find out what it is.
My sundew is growing well.
The barn owl gave him a long look before she accepted the letter this time, as though she had expected him to fall all over the evidence of another human being thinking about him and wear out his wrist in return. Draco ignored her. The aches in his chest had quieted, and a new determination had taken its place.
That was enough to free him of both what had seemed the clinging weight of his helpless mother, and any debt he owed to Potter for his attention. He turned away from the window, looked to make sure the damselfly had stopped struggling, and then went downstairs to the library, to start reading.
December, and January, and February, and March. Draco went on reading, while snow fell over Wiltshire, and his mother drifted in and out of dreams where she thought his father was home and nightmares where she knew the horrid reality, and Lozzy tended the garden where the sundew seeds had been put to germinate, and Draco's sundew wrapped itself deep in tightly-closed winter hibernation.
And Potter's letters came, regular as clockwork. Slowly, when he thought about it and wanted to pull his head out of books or his mother's bedroom, taking it as a pleasure and not a duty, Draco answered them.
He wrote snatches and then whole connected paragraphs of his life during wartime, hints and then outright admissions about his childhood before Hogwarts, and even, coded, how his reading was changing him.
Voldemort nearly killed my mother in front of me, one evening when he went too far and lost control of his sadism.
I used to love climbing trees. My father thought it was silly, since a wizard with a broom could fly to the topmost branches any time he wanted, but I never forgot the time I tipped over backwards and hung upside down with at least forty feet of air between me and the ground. I can't remember being afraid.
My mother spends most of her time incoherent now.
Did you know that people who are sick and retreated into their own heads, people the Muggle doctors and even the mediwizards have given up on, can be brought back by animals sometimes? And plants. Just having a flower in the room, or even a painting of trees, can help.
Potter responded far more often, but never pressed Draco for frequency to match his, and rarely confided anything of the feelings Draco's perceptive eye sometimes caught in an adjective here and there—a longing adjective, a yearning one, an admiring one. Slowly, Draco came to treasure the letters, and to want to know more of Potter's life. He encouraged him to say something about it. Potter responded.
Slowly, Potter melted into Harry.
They still didn't meet. Harry seemed to know that invitation would have to come from him, and in return Draco told him that he wasn't ready yet, and let Harry know that someday, he might be.
And slowly, Draco's thing to do crept up on him, and sank fragile roots into a soil he hadn't known was there, and unfolded leaves. They were sticky, and they caught ideas as fiercely as his sundew caught insects.
"Master Draco! Master Draco!"
So Lozzy called him, almost singing his name, on a day in early April, and Draco sprinted up the stairs. He knew what had happened.
His sundew had unfolded its leaves and was straining for the light once more. And beneath him, a large stretch of the Malfoy gardens gleamed with row after row of green and red, and steamed gently with the decay proper to a swamp, busy with death that was turning into life.
Draco set the pot down on the table by his mother's bed. He tried not to notice the trembling of his own hands, then realized he had anyway and determined to ignore it.
He was glad that Harry had given him back his wand. He could never have achieved the creation the pot held with only his mother's wand. His own magic at the height of its strength was necessary in order to do what he'd done.
Of course, the reading he'd done about soils and plants and the effects that plants and animals had on the minds of withdrawn patients was also crucial. And so were the old Herbology texts he'd unearthed from his grandfather's bookcase. Grandfather Abraxas had had a passion for flowering plants, which he kept secret because it did seem like an odd, silly thing for a Malfoy patriarch to cherish. Lucius had told Draco the secret as a boy and invited him to laugh at it. Now Draco was rather inclined to pity his father, who had never imagined what he could discover in other living things and was in a place where he never would again.
He glanced once more at the plant in the pot, which looked like an ordinary sundew at this point, and then pointed his wand at it and spoke the incantation he'd decided on to add the extra features. "Genero lumen mentis!"
The sundew immediately turned its stalks around, and revealed gleaming golden undersides, bright as sunlight themselves. Draco stepped swiftly out of the way as the globs of dew on them popped off and floated towards the bed, settling on his mother's face. She had stopped responding completely a week ago. Draco twined his fingers roughly in his hair and told himself that he hadn't been too late, that he couldn't have tested the sundew before this or it wouldn't have been safe, and that he didn't know he was too late anyway.
The blobs of liquid sank into his mother's skin. Draco waited. If he had enchanted the sundew correctly, and bred it up from a magically forced early crop of seeds in the right way, then the dew should catch the madness and devour it, leading her sanity back to the surface.
If he'd done it right. He still didn't know if it was possible. No one had ever done something like this before, not even Longbottom, whom Harry had sent along Herbology information from when Draco asked.
Long, long moments of waiting. And then the sundew shone and vibrated, and suddenly its stalks gleamed with dew again, each drop filled with a swimming medley of chaotic patterns. Draco stared at them, not quite daring to believe that the result he had dreamed of looked exactly like those dreams.
He turned around.
Narcissa was looking down at her sleeping robes with a faintly bewildered expression. "What am I doing in these at this time of the day?" she asked, and plucked at them. "Really, I need to get up and take a bath, I think. I've been asleep for a long time, haven't I?"
"Mother," Draco whispered.
She looked up at him, and her eyes were sad, but sane.
"Yes, Draco," she whispered. "I remember. Your father's in prison, and he's not ever coming back." She sighed, leaving Draco tense and nervous; it sounded so much like the sigh she'd give right before she collapsed into another temporary bout of catatonia.
And then she said, "I'll live with it."
But her eyes filled with tears, and Draco could certainly understand that, because he was crying, too, even if he hid it against her shoulder, and her arms around him were as tight as his around her.
I did it. I brought my mother back. And it was useful, and beautiful, and I know what I want to do for the rest of my life.
Thank you for helping me towards it.
It was the middle of July before Harry wrote, the letters unusually straight as if he'd made them very carefully, I think I love you.
It was the middle of August before Draco wrote it back.
Draco stood waiting just outside the Hogwarts Express, ignoring the curious stares of the other students as they trooped past him towards the carriages. They could stare all they liked. He wasn't in a hurry to ride in a carriage drawn by a creature that one could only see when one had seen death.
Besides, he had someone to meet.
He was just revising his study schedule for the tenth time in his mind—since he wanted to take N.E. W. T.'s in Herbology and Care of Magical Creatures, as well as have time for traveling back to the Manor on weekends and caring for his sundews, and clearing a small patch in the Forbidden Forest for an experimental garden—when a voice startled him. He found that he knew it even though it had been more than a year. Absence had cost him—them—something, but it had made the ears grow keener.
He looked up, and there was Harry coming towards him, green eyes hopeful but uncertain, hand extended.
Draco ignored the hand. It was his privilege, since Harry had once done it to him. He went straight for the embrace, and then the kiss on the cheek. If he didn't want to kiss Harry on the lips yet, he didn't have to. It wasn't nervousness or shyness, it was his choice.
Trust Harry to ruin a perfectly good plan by turning his head and bringing his lips into the path of Draco's.
After a moment, his eyes sliding shut while something wonderful happened to his mouth, Draco decided he didn't mind.
Harry looked acceptably dazed when he pulled back. Draco caught his hand and held it, then, in both of his, and turned to look at Hogwarts.
"Ready?" he asked.
"For a long time now," Harry said softly, and put an arm around him, so that Draco could lean on him while they walked towards Hogwarts. If he wanted to. Draco decided he wanted to, and they walked like that, warmth gathering between their bodies, both of them genuinely content to ignore the open stares and several rude comments.
It was incredible, Draco thought, as he adjusted his pace to keep his head pillowed on steady strength and warmth.
Almost as incredible as a sundew.
Or, at least, decent competition.