Disclaimer: Absolutely nothing in this fic belongs to me. No, really. Nothing.
~~~Everything somehow leads back to Saint Potter~~~
His blond hair falls into his eyes, so he brushes it away with the tips of his fingers. Cross-legged, he leans his back against the wall and lets his gaze wander, until eventually it lands on the boy sitting opposite him, leaning against the legs of a desk, his legs folded up so that the soles of his feet rest on the ground.
"Why?" says Draco, half-shaking his head, "Why're you being nice to me? Why're you talking to me? Why'd you drag me in here instead of letting Dobson and Hume hex me into the ground?"
Neville smiles somewhat wanly.
"Dunno," he says. "I just don't approve of bullying, I s'pose."
"But I'm a bully," says Malfoy, frustrated. "One'd think you'd be overjoyed to see the bully getting a taste of his own medicine."
"Nah," Neville says, leaning his head back. "One would think that, I suppose," he continues thoughtfully, "But I expect it comes from knowing what it's like to be bullied. I wouldn't wish that on somebody, because I know how it feels. I'd be a terrible person if I wanted someone to go through something that I know is just… not something I'd want to go through. You know?"
"No," Draco says uncomprehendingly. "I don't fucking know. You Gryffindors are beyond my understanding. And it's sickening, because I know what you're doing is a great thing, and I'm thankful to you for it, but I would never do it. I'd never do it. I used to think it was because it was idiotic, you know, sacrificing what you want for what other people want – but you're doing it for me, and I'm thankful for it, and I like you for it… but it would still never occur to me to do it. If tomorrow I see Dobson or Hume or Clive or Fawcett, and they're being hexed and bullied, I wouldn't lift a finger to go to their aid. I'd give their tormentors my blessing. And I just – I just don't understand." Draco rubs his face with his palm, his skin oily and eyes bloodshot and troubled.
"You've changed," Neville says in a calmly amused voice.
"I had a lot of time," Draco says, sounding bitter. "To think stuff over, to understand a few things."
"What d'you mean?" says Neville, leaning forwards and crossing his legs before him. "When did you have all this time?"
"All day… doing menial labour in my own house," says Draco, looking up at Neville, grinning to convey the irony. "I had to scrub floors after particularly messy murders… fetch and carry anything the Dark Lord needed… I was his personal servant, he loved it, it was just another way for him to remind my dad who was boss…" he trails away, and Neville grins back, and they grin at each other, incongruously and ridiculously.
"What'd you think about," asks Neville a few minutes later, leaning back onto the table-legs.
"Thought about him – the Dark Idiot. Thought about what a moron my dad had been to've been taken in by all the nonsense he spewed. Thought about Granger, being tortured in my living room. Thought about Weasley, stupid idiot, besotted enough with her to offer himself in exchange. Thought about Potter. Thought loads about Potter."
Neville nods. "When I was a kid and you'd lock my legs together, or stick my tongue to the roof of my mouth or hex me in some way or other, everyone'd laugh," he says. Draco nods, understanding but unapologetic. "And I'd crawl back to Gryffindor, but the Gryffindors'd laugh too. And one day, Harry told me I was worth twelve of you. And anytime anyone bullied me, he'd stand up for me. Remember the remembrall?" Draco nods, an almost fond smile ghosting across his face. "And by extension, Ron and Hermione stood up for me too. Well, Hermione always stood up for me, but before Harry became friends with her she was just as badly bullied as I was. Worse, sometimes. And then Harry came along, and he showed me this bit of kindness, and y'know why?" Neville leans forward, so that his face is less than a foot away from Draco's. "Because he'd been bullied too. By his Muggle cousin and the cousin's friends. He'd been chased and hit and made fun of, all his life. So he stood up for me when you made fun of me. Because he knew how it felt. And now, I'm standing up for you. Because I know how it felt."
"Saint Potter," says Draco, half-smiling. "Waltzes into lives and paints them gold, doesn't he, the bastard."
"Yeah, he's more magic than the rest of Hogwarts put together, I'll say that," Neville says with a laugh, leaning back and looking at the ceiling.
They sit quietly for a few seconds, Draco gazing at his fingernails, while Neville draws his eyes across the ceiling lazily.
"You lot don't get it though," Draco says abruptly.
"What don't we get," says Neville, sounding half-patient and half-uninterested.
"Y'know – it was easy. For you lot," Draco says, and looks uncomfortable, not able to articulate properly his meaning. "You grew up on the side of the 'Light', as you like to call it. You grew up thinking Dark Magic was evil, and that you were saving the world. I grew up thinking Dark Magic was all right. I still think it's all right. Granted, Lord Baldywart was every sort of nutter. He was. But that doesn't make Dark Magic evil. Inherently. For you lot, it's as though there's black and there's white and there's nothing in between, but I," Draco brings his hands up to cover his face, "I dunno what to think. It's tiring."
"Baldywart?" sniggers Neville.
"Yeah, I started calling him that a bit after I decided he was mad as several hatters," sighs Draco, his voice muffled through his hands.
"All right, so talk to me about it," Neville says decisively. "I can tell you want to hash it out a bit, don't you? I won't laugh or interrupt or do anything you don't want me to do, all right? Just – tell me everything, and I'll listen, and you can sort it out."
"Why're you being so bloody nice to me?" Draco groans, dropping his hands into his lap. "It's making me loathe myself. Thanks very bloody much for that, Longbottom."
"You're awfully welcome," grins Neville. "Go on. Tell us. Tell Uncle Neville."
Draco gapes at him in disbelieving horror.
"I'll tell you if you never refer to yourself as 'Uncle Neville' again," he says with disgust.
"All right," agrees Neville.
"Well," says Draco, looking away and fixing his eyes on his shoes, "I suppose I should start at the beginning. Which would be after the whole stupid Prophecy incident, which caused Father to fall in Baldy's graces, which caused Baldy to assign me to the task of killing Dumbledore. Something I stupidly considered an honour at the time." He looks up at Neville beseechingly. "I was an idiot. I didn't even understand that I'd only got the job because he thought I'd never be able to do it, so when I failed he could kill me, as a lesson to my father. If I didn't die trying that is."
Draco looks around, swallowing, his eyes becoming more bloodshot.
"I don't know if you know all of what was going on –"
"I don't," interjects Neville.
"Right," says Draco. "Well, my mother was worried, so she made Snape take an Unbreakable Vow with her to protect me."
Neville nods. There are parts to this story that both he and Draco are aware they don't know. There are parts to this story that vindicate Severus Snape, that have to do with Dumbledore's past, that have to do with how Harry Potter got rid of You-Know-Who, that have to do with Harry Potter. Everything somehow leads back to Harry Potter, at this point.
"So that's what I was doing all sixth year. Trying to do in Dumbledore," Draco laughs mirthlessly. "The necklace. The stupid Firewhisky. I was such a stupid, desperate idiot. Know what's funny, Longbottom?"
Neville shakes his head.
"I'd spent the last five years of my life trying to get Potter to pay attention to me. And he never did. I was always beneath the Chosen Plonker's notice, wasn't I? I tried to ridicule him. I tried to put down his friends. I tried to show him what I had that Weasel didn't. And he never bloody looked at me twice. And the one year I need him out of my business, Potty decides to follow me everywhere. Like he's Sherlock fucking Holmes, under that stupid cloak of his –"
Neville decides wisely to make no comment at either the Muggle literature reference or Malfoy's confession that he wanted Harry's attention.
"Anyway. It wasn't easy, let me tell you, trying to make a plan and carry it out with the Boy Who Snooped looking over my shoulder at every turn," Draco continues. "Luckily his mates decided he was going bonkers, and humoured him without really listening to what he was saying about me. In any case, I kept fucking up, over and over again. Bell and the necklace, Weasel and that poisoned Firewhisky or mulled mead or whatever it was – bet you heard about all that, did you?"
"Yeah," Neville says gravely. "Weren't really fussed how many you topped before you got to Dumbledore, were you?"
"God, I was desperate, Longbottom," Draco says, "I know you think what I did was inexcusable, but I don't have your morals, okay? I think your morals are idealistic and impractical, okay? I still do. I looked out for myself as best as I could. If I hadn't, I'd be dead, and so would my parents, probably. So I'm happy I gave it a go. My family and I are still alive, so I consider it worth it."
Neville shakes his head, but reserves comment again.
"Anyway, then I had my brainwave," Draco goes on, "I'm still proud of it, a bit. It was a corker, as ideas go. I mean I know I was planning to commit murder and all, but it was really quite –"
"Yeah, I get it, Malfoy," Neville says, and Draco grins irreverently at him. Neville grins back, because really, humour is humour, Dumbledore or not.
"You do know about my brilliant idea?" Draco asks, and Neville nods.
"Vanishing Cabinet? As a matter of fact, yes, I do know, considering I spent the better part of that evening dodging hexes from Alecto Carrow," he says, and Draco's face falls.
"Er, yeah. Sorry 'bout that," he says, abashed. "I didn't really think of you lot as people at that point." Neville doesn't know whether to be offended or to shrug, because really, he's never thought of Malfoy as a person either. Not until he saw him being cornered by Jacob Hume and Andrew Dobson, with his face scrunched up in fear, his arms doing a terrible job of shielding him. Neville shrugs. It's odd to be having this conversation with Malfoy anyway. Odd to hear the other side of the story when it's not being spat in his face with abject fury, or gloating.
"I really am sorry though," Draco says, flicking blond hair out of his eyes. "I hadn't really had a chance to pick a side in the war or anything, at that point. I was just doing what I was told, trying to prove I could be like my dad, never questioning if being like my dad was really the ideal I should be working up to."
"So if you did," Neville says, "What side would you choose?"
"I wouldn't," Draco says decisively. "I'd move to France. Look, Longbottom, I believed in the Dark Lord's ideals. I really didn't like Muggleborns. I didn't think they should be included in our society. I had some misgivings, mostly because without Muggleborns we're likely to die out, but I'd been taught that they weren't as good as us, so I seriously believed that they were dirtying the gene-pool or something."
"Gene pool?" Neville says, surprised. "Muggle science?"
"Yeah. I've been doing some reading. I don't hate Muggleborns anymore, or call them Mudbloods, as you might've noticed. Which is mainly all Granger's doing. In fact, I never hated them as much as my parents. I only hated Granger so much because she was Potter's friend." Malfoy goes red at this, and Neville doesn't say anything. "And as you may have noticed," Malfoy goes on in a small, determined voice, "I have something of an obsession with Potter. Always have had."
Neville keeps his mouth shut as Draco draws his finger over the edge of one of his shoes pensively. He looks awfully skinny and vulnerable like this, stripped of his swagger.
"Anyway," Draco continues suddenly, "I'd move to France. Because I wouldn't want to curry favour to some megalomaniac with no body hair. Or to anybody. I can understand that Father was attracted to the power he'd have had under Baldywart's regime, if he hadn't fallen out of favour with him. And if he'd won. History's written by the winners, Longbottom. If he'd won, he'd go down in history as the man who saved Wizardkind from the tyrannical ministry rule that forced us to cheapen ourselves by mingling with Muggles. The brave rebel who wasn't afraid to use violence where it was needed. And Father would've gone down as one of the founding fathers of the new regime. But now Baldy's going to go down in history as an insane, megalomaniac bigot. Who's right? The winners are right. Harry Potter can write the history books now, the way he wants them to sound. And that's really what power is, isn't it?"
Neville nods, impressed.
"That's a lot of thinking you've been doing, Malfoy," he says, and Draco laughs, somewhat mirthlessly.
"Yeah," he says. "That's not the half of it, either."
"Go on," Neville says.
"What was I talking about?" asks Draco, looking up at Neville with round grey eyes.
"Er, right and wrong. History's written by the winners."
"Right," says Draco. "So I don't think Baldy was evil. I think he was insane, yes. I think he went about this conquering business in a ridiculous way. I think he could have gained power without trying to chuck Muggleborns out of wizard society. Because, really, he'd've had a lot more supporters if he wasn't such a blood purist, you know. He should've really had more of a goal in mind. All he had outlined was to be some sort of king, and to enslave all Muggles. Not much of a bloody politician, if you ask me. So yeah, if it were someone who went about it better, I'd be on their side because of what I'd been taught to believe, and because I'd never had to do my own thinking a single day of my life. But since Baldywart was pants at what he was trying to do, I'd've moved to France. Anyway, that's not how it happened. And that's why I ended up having to actually think some thoughts." Neville doesn't miss the way Malfoy now makes self-deprecating jokes. The old Malfoy was witty, but he'd never had any sense of humour concerning his own faults. He'd seemed to've truly believed he was perfect. And this, more than anything else, drives home to Neville how much Malfoy's changed, and how much thinking he must really have done.
Draco pauses, to mull over what to say next. He clears his throat.
"While I was doing my thinking, I saw lots and lots of people tortured and killed. To no purpose. I'm no sap, Longbottom, but I really wouldn't mind a purpose to killing, y'know. And sometimes I wanted to help them. But I never did, and you know why, Longbottom?"
He raises his startlingly grey eyes and looks at Neville, and his look is so full of despair and self-disgust that Neville wants to touch his arm, or hold his hand or something. He shrugs the feeling away, because it would be stupid, and Malfoy would surely accuse him of being a sap.
"Why?" he whispers instead, and Malfoy looks right at him, and says,
"Because I'm a filthy, horrible little coward. I grovel at the feet of those stronger than me, and I take the side of anybody who can provide some protection. I forgo loyalty to protect myself. I forgo dignity to protect myself. For all my swagger, I didn't have the guts to give my classmates, locked in the cellar of my own house, any extra food, or water, or comfort. Nothing. Not because I didn't want to, but because I didn't dare to."
Then, Draco crumples a bit, curling his legs so that he can rest his forehead on his knees.
"Explains why Potter wouldn't glance at me twice, doesn't it, Longbottom?" says Draco, his voice muffled because his mouth is pressed up against his trousers. "I'm not even slightly worth it. Potter was right the very first fucking time. I'm the wrong sort. Weasley would've done it. He'd've helped Lovegood and Thomas. So would Granger. I probably wouldn't have helped them if it'd been Crabbe or Goyle or Blaise, and they're supposed to be my friends. But I wouldn't have done it. Because I am a fucking coward.
Neville leans forward on his knees, and puts his hand on his shoulder, because he can't simply sit still when Malfoy is like this.
"At least you know it now," he says, and Draco gives a tortured sort of laugh.
"Thanks, Longbottom," he says, looking up with a sardonic smile, his eyes overbright.
"No, I mean it," says Neville. "You can't better yourself if you love who you are. Clearly you don't like who you are. Well, now that you know, you can change that."
"Can I?" says Draco, looking skeptical.
"Course. Haven't you noticed how much I changed?"
"You're a fucking Gryffindor. Bravery was always lurking in you somewhere," scoffs Draco. "You just rose to the occasion when it was required."
"Wasn't easy," says Neville. "I thought I was wrongly sorted. You know I asked for Gryffindor, right?"
"What?" says Draco incredulously.
"Yeah, if you beg the Hat, it lets you go where you want. I was going to be a Hufflepuff, but I asked it for Gryffindor, because that's where my parents had been."
"What?" says Draco, going white. "And you still did – all that stuff you did? All that snake-slaying? All the DA stuff?"
"Yeah," says Neville, laughing a little at Draco's disbelief. "You're not defined by your house, Malfoy. We've all got Gryffindor bravery lurking in us. As well as Slytherin resourcefulness, and Hufflepuff loyalty, and Ravenclaw cleverness. It just depends on you, on whether you want to use it enough, on whether you believe in yourself enough. And on the circumstances, I suppose. I wouldn't have done half of the stuff I did if it weren't for Luna and Ginny standing by me the whole time. You were alone. Maybe the circumstances weren't right. Maybe the best of us would've been cowed by living so near You Know Who, and by extension, living in constant danger."
"Not Potter," spits Draco, looking away bitterly.
"No, probably not him. But Harry's got a whole other set of circumstances in his favour, Malfoy – well, if you count the upbringing he had as being in his favour. You grew up in luxury. Harry grew up fighting for his life. Loathed by the only family he had left. Insane megalomaniac after his blood, with a bunch of lunatic minions at his heels. He's always had to be brave. He puts others before himself, because he has terrible self-esteem, growing up the way he did. He thinks it's okay for him to die for others, because deep inside he believes they're worth more than him. You grew up loved and cherished and spoiled. You would never place other people before yourself, because you grew up believing you were worth everything."
Draco nods, his mouth hard, although Neville can tell that he's probably blocking tears or yells or something.
"And yet, he's worth everything," whispers Draco. "And I'm not worth a Knut in comparison. D'you know he saved my life?"
"No," says Neville, though he's unsurprised. Harry's saved everyone's life at some point or the other.
"Yeah. From this crazy fire Crabbe started. Stupid idiot. They could've left me to die. Weasley was all for it. But Potter swoops heroically into the flames and grabs me onto his broom. Best moment of my life," Draco chuckles ironically. "Holding famous Harry Potter around the waist, flying through the air – although I was terrified out of my life, stupid Fiendfyre. But he saved me. He saved me and I'm not fit to tie his fucking shoelaces. "
"Don't talk like that," says Neville, all the talk of shoelaces bringing You Know Who uncomfortably to mind.
"But it's true, isn't it?" Draco asks wildly. "It's true. And that's the reason I hate him so much. Because he's fucking perfect." He goes limp, looking tired, ashen. It occurs to Neville that he's one of the few people to see Draco like this, completely stripped of all the usual bravado, pride completely thrown to the side. One of the few people to see Draco when he's at his most contemplative, at his most unguarded, at his most self-loathing.
"Go on. You're not finished talking, are you?" asks Neville. "You didn't finish telling me how Hermione altered your vision of Muggleborns."
"Oh. That." Draco looks at the ceiling, his energy seemingly drained. "Well, they were captured, Potter and his mates. And they were brought to my house. Potter apparently had a Stinging Hex thrown at him or something, his face was all swollen. But he was unmistakeably Potter, all the same, and of course I recognized Granger and the Weasel. My father called me to check whether it was them. If I said no and was found out, I'd be tortured –" Draco gulps, "So I did the only thing I could do. I said I didn't know. And I tried to get away, so they wouldn't make me say it was him. Fuck – Merlin –" Draco wipes his eyes with the heel of his hand – "I didn't want them to catch Potter. I hated life as a Baldy-minion. I hated that my Father was groveling at his feet day after day, buying us another week of safety before the Dark Lord got bored and started pointing his wand at us for fun. And I didn't want to be the one who got Potter caught by identifying him. If I was brave, I'd've got them out of there. I'd've gone down to the cellar and given them their wands back. But they didn't need me, did they?" Draco coughs, and raises his eyes to the ceiling again. Neville can tell that he's trying to blink back tears, to force them away.
"They sent Potter and Weasley to the cellar. They kept Granger upstairs to torture. I did absolutely nothing to stop it. They questioned her over and over again, but Granger, she wouldn't break. I couldn't help Harry fucking Potter escape to save the fucking world just because of the threat of being found out, but Granger wouldn't crack under the fucking Cruciatus Curse, Longbottom. I wanted to kill myself, in that moment. Because I was far, far inferior to Granger, the Muggleborn I'd been taunting for years because of her stupid heritage. When she kept her mouth shut through the Cruciatus Curse, while the mere hint of being caught stopped me from doing anything helpful. And not even anything helpful for Wizardkind, oh no. Anything helpful for me. Because I wanted the Dark Lord gone too, but I wasn't even brave enough to do something self-serving. That's how pathetic I was, in front of a Muggleborn."
Draco pauses to wipe his eyes again.
"So you see, I'm not fit to look down on Muggleborns, Longbottom, or anybody for that matter," he says, grinning at him, the wetness in his eyes reflecting light. "I am, quite possibly, the lowest of the low."
"Not anymore," Neville says, the firmness in his voice taking even him by surprise. "I find you agreeable now, Malfoy, which is extremely surprising, but has something to say for the improvement you seem to have undergone."
Draco's smile is a bit more relaxed this time. "And your opinion is the benchmark we must all subscribe to, is it, Longbottom?"
"'Course it is," Neville says, smiling back. "Jokes aside though, Malfoy, the main reason you were as insufferable as you were, earlier, is that you thought you were the Prince of Everything. And now you know you're not. That's a massive improvement in itself. The rest'll probably come with time."
"You think so?" Draco says, trying for nonchalance and failing.
"Yeah. I do. If you want it enough. If you try to change, you can. The first part of changing is getting rid of your pride, but I think you have that covered, even if you won't let anyone else know it."
"Longbottom," Draco says, looking embarrassed, but hopeful. "D'you – er, d'you think Potter might forgive me? Someday?"
"I don't think Harry really holds any sort of grudge against you, Malfoy," Neville says. "He's not like that. I bet if you went to him today and apologized to him once, he'd be right friendly to you. As long as you act the same way back."
"I can't be friends with him," Draco says hastily, shaking his head. "But I'd be all right with him not hating me."
"I doubt that he hates you, Malfoy," Neville tells him patiently. He stands up, and holds out a hand. "Look, if you're agreeable, I'll call you over when I'm hanging around with him. That all right?"
"You're going to talk to me after this?" Draco exclaims in astonishment.
"Should I not?" Neville says with some amusement. "Will it embarrass you?"
Draco scoffs, pulling himself up with Neville's hand. "Hardly, O Great Snake-Slayer. I thought you might be more embarrassed. I have a skull tattoo on my arm, you know. I was nearly the one that did Dumbledore in."
"You couldn't do a fly in and you know it, you pompous git," Neville shakes his head in exasperation. "Are you in or not?"
Draco looks nervous. "You're sure he won't hate me?"
"Even if he does, he won't for long if you don't give in to your git-like ways," Neville says with certainty. "And you won't, because you're in love with him. So don't fuck this up, Draco."
The nervous, vulnerable look stays on Draco's face for a few seconds before he draws it back in, and replaces it with the impassive face he's been wearing ever since the war ended. He walks out of the empty classroom with Neville.
A/N: I hope you enjoyed that! That was my long-overdue Draco character-study. If you review, and I would love if you did, I'd love some comments on how in character Draco was, and if the changes in him after the war were plausible. Thanks :D