Disclaimer: I don't own them, JKR does. Apples are the property of the tree from whence they came.
Warnings: None, really. A couple of bad words. Semi-malicious use of fruit as a projectile.
A/N: This was written for the daisy-chain drabbles mini-fest over on livejournal, and is one story in a set of 10 that loops around with different pairings following on from the last. Enormous fun, go have a looksie.
Of Autumn and Apples.
(Or, the eight times that Draco Malfoy has almost-but-not-quite-life-changing encounters involving apples.)
The first is when he is summoned to Headmistress McGonagall, a day before term is about to start. Frankly, he's terrified, and can think of only one place he'd rather not be than back at Hogwarts.
"Sit down," she says, her voice clipped and short like she's annoyed at him already. "So. Mister Malfoy. You have been accepted back into Hogwarts to finish your schooling under strict terms of probation, in lieu of a term in Azkaban."
She pauses and her nostrils flare and Draco knows what she thinks of that. He looks away from her and stares at the bowl of fruit on her desk. Fruit? He thought all these teachers lived on sweets alone.
"You will adhere, without question, to the conditions outlined to you here," she continues. Draco nods at the fruit bowl. "You will sit six NEWT's, and so help me if they aren't all above acceptable we will be having words," she says firmly. Draco nods again. "You will carry out prefect duties to the letter. You will have use of the bathrooms as privilege, but you are not to leave the castle at any time, which means no trips to Hogsmeade. You are not to mention, under any circumstances, Voldemort or the mark. You will behave with exemplary conduct and moral responsibility. And last but not least, there is to be no fighting with, antagonizing, hexing, cursing or otherwise annoying Harry Potter."
Draco looks up in disbelief. McGonagall looks deadly serious.
"I am deadly serious," she says and Draco goes back to staring at the fruit bowl. "You are to leave Harry alone."
Draco nods stiffly, eyes fixed on a green apple that sits innocuously between a pear and an orange. Think of Azkaban, he tells himself as he clenches his jaw and swallows back tears. It could be worse.
McGonagall sighs and sits back in her chair, and her expression softens marginally. "Keep your head down Draco, and you will be fine. Work hard and keep your mind on the future. And for goodness sake, behave yourself. You can have that, if you like."
Draco looks up, puzzled.
"The apple," McGonagall says, back to impatient in a blink. "You must be interested in it considering that you've been staring at it this whole time."
There's not a lot Draco can say to that. He stands up and takes the apple. "Thank you," he mumbles as he leaves the office, and he hopes she knows that he's not just talking about the fruit.
The second encounter isn't really life-changing at all, more of a clarification of something Draco thought he knew anyway. He edges into the Hall for breakfast on the first proper morning back, feeling fairly nervous. One of his friends is dead, two are in Azkaban, three have upped and left to pastures new and the remaining two are currently sat at the far end of the Slytherin table.
Worth a shot, he thinks without much conviction. Sure enough,
"Fuck off, Draco," Blaise Zabini says calmly, turning over the page of his newspaper. "We don't want anything to do with you."
"Go away," Blaise says carefully, his voice tinged with anger. Next to him, Daphne Greengrass continues with her breakfast like Draco isn't even there.
Draco turns on his heel and leaves the Hall. On the way out, he stops to steal an apple from the bowl at the end of the table. The third years shrink away from him as if he'll bite. Humiliated and angry, he hisses at them before stalking away, making them all gasp and cower. As he sits down alone in the courtyard outside, he hopes that none of them will tell on him to McGonagall. He swallows, holding the apple to his mouth and blinking back tears. His day has been shit enough as it is.
Draco thinks he should get an award for making himself invisible without even trying. It's been four days since he last uttered a word to anyone, not counting the bit of wall he has to speak to in order to get into the common room. He doesn't stay there often though; most of the Slytherins ignore him, some look scared of him and a few look disgusted with him.
Instead, he sits outside. The summer is rapidly fading into autumn, and Draco thinks maybe it's some cruel real-time metaphor for his own life, in that he's rapidly giving up hope that everything will be okay. As the days pass and the leaves fall he grows lonelier and lonelier and he starts to think that maybe it's all pointless.
He finds himself a tree to sit beneath, a gnarled old apple that's bigger than it should rightfully be. If he sits right against the trunk there's no way anyone can see him unless they're walking along the path around the edge of the lake, and even then they tend to be looking at the lake instead of up the hill. He doesn't like being out here, but he likes the fact he can pretend he's out here by choice, not because everyone else ignores him.
There's one person who doesn't ignore Draco though. When they pass in the corridors or have to share a classroom for lessons, Harry Potter glances over Draco with a neutral, slightly curious expression on his face, like Draco's a mildly interesting puzzle that he just can't figure out. Draco ignores him, desperately reciting McGonagall's 'no annoying Harry Potter' mantra in his head. Admittedly, there's a not a lot he can do if he's annoying Potter simply by breathing, now is there?
The fourth incident is a small one, but Draco clings onto it like a lifeline. In transfiguration, they're given fruit to transfigure into living animals, a rather difficult concept at the best of times. Draco's been reading up on it though; seeing as he has no friends all he can do with his spare time is cry, think about jumping off the astronomy tower or study. He's tired of the first option, the second is void anyway because he's not allowed up the astronomy tower, and so all that leaves him with is the third.
Long story short; he's read up on the concept, and as a result turns the apple in front of him into a turtle with minimal fuss, and – he likes to note – before Hermione Granger can even make her pineapple move.
The whole class stare at him – Harry bloody Potter included – and McGonagall gives him ten points for Slytherin.
The most important incident is not Draco's favourite. He lists it as important, yet completely mortifying. It's the third week of September, and Draco is once again sitting alone at the end of the Slytherin table eating his breakfast. He has his legs crossed, arms tucked tightly into his sides and back bowed in an attempt to make himself as small as possible. He's finished his porridge and out of habit picks up an apple. As he bites into it he looks up just in time to see the Golden Trio enter the hall. In quick succession Harry Potter looks his way, Draco looks back, Harry Potter blinks, Draco blinks back, Harry Potter nods, Draco inhales sharply and starts to choke.
He has around twenty frantic seconds of trying to draw in air, eyes watering and pulse thudding in his ears, and some remote part of his brain is incredulously pointing out that he survived the Dark Lord living in his house and now he's about to die because of a sodding apple.
His vision blurs. He hears alarmed voices, and then someone yanks him up out of his seat and something hard hits him square between the shoulder blades. The piece of apple comes free and he gasps in great shuddering breaths, clutching onto the person who is still holding him upright, his shirt fisted in their grip.
"Don't die," Harry Potter's voice says, sounding alarmed.
Draco looks up through streaming eyes. "Still haven't got over that saving people thing?" he asks hoarsely.
Potter shakes his head. "Apparently not. Are you okay?"
Draco nods weakly and Potter lets him go. They stand in silence for a full minute. Potter is looking at Draco with wide curious eyes, and Draco is looking at the floor pretending he doesn't know that Potter is watching him.
"So," Potter finally says. "Not going to choke on anything else?"
Draco shakes his head. "I'll try not to."
Potter nods and takes a step back, the corner of his mouth hitching into an almost-smile. "Alright then. See you later, Malfoy."
Draco nods. And as Potter walks away he can't help but call out the two little words he vowed never to say.
Potter pauses and turns back to look at him, and then he nods and carries on. Draco sits back down, mentally cursing the ridiculous amount of life-debts he now owes Potter, and hoping that Potter knows that he means thank you for everything.
The sixth happens when Draco is lying under his tree. He has his eyes closed and he's alternating his daydreaming between scenarios of being able to leave Hogwarts and snogging Viktor Krum. He can't concentrate on the latter as much as he'd like; he can't stop brooding over the first. As he does, he feels a familiar prickling behind his eyelids and a tightening of his throat.
He's so lonely.
He's distracted from tears by a soft thump next to him. He opens his eyes and sees a newly fallen apple resting on the grass next to his bag. He sits up and reaches for it, remembering how the last apple he held nearly killed him, and how Harry Potter saved his life. Again.
He looks up and his heart skips and his brain starts swearing murderously because walking along the path by the edge of the lake is none other than Harry sodding Potter, complete with Weasley and Granger.
They're laughing and joking and as Draco watches, Weasley shoves Potter playfully off the path, and receives a face-full of leaves in response. Jealously that's frighteningly close to hate curls through Draco as he watches the friends together. He has no friends. He has no-one to joke with, no-one to pretend to push in the lake. He knows full well it's all his own fault, but it's not fair.
He tenses as Potter looks up, the September sunlight glancing off his glasses. He appears to hesitate, and then waves at Draco before turning away and walking on.
Jealousy turns into rage. How dare Potter wave at him like they're friends or something? Stupid perfect Potter who never talks to Draco unless he's choking, who Draco owes more than anyone and has no way to repay.
In hindsight, it's not a clever idea. Draco stands up, and throws the apple in his hand as hard as he can. And he finds something he's good at, because his aim is true and the apple hits Potter straight in the back of the head.
Potter staggers and raises a hand to the back of his head, looking around wildly. He straightens his glasses and then locks onto Draco. He's furious.
"What the hell, Malfoy?" he shouts in disbelief, striding away from the path and a little way up the hill.
"You waved at me!" Draco shouts back, and later he'll realise how stupid that sounds.
"Well, yeah!" Potter shouts, angry and incredulous. "I did! What's your problem?"
"Go back to your stupid friends!"
Potter still looks livid. "Go back to yours, instead of bothering me!"
"I don't have any!" Draco bellows back.
Potter pauses. His angry scowl turns into a frown and he rubs the back of his head. He contemplates Draco for a moment and then he turns on his heel and walks back to his friends. They march away, disappearing around the corner.
Draco bursts into tears and sits back down because it's true; he doesn't have any friends and now he's going to be thrown out of school for throwing an apple at Harry Potter's stupid head.
Draco realises that incident six must not have gone any further than himself and the golden trio because miraculously, he isn't summoned to McGonagall and he doesn't get kicked out of school. He's lying under his tree a week later, watching fiery orange leaves slowly spin to earth and contemplating why.
Maybe Potter's embarrassed. 'Headmistress McGonagall, Malfoy threw an apple at my head,' sounds childish no matter how you say it. Maybe Potter just doesn't care about Draco at all, so doesn't deem him worthy of telling on.
Draco refuses to cry when he contemplates that possibility, and instead decides that he hates autumn and he hates apples.
He shuts his eyes and breathes out deeply, and is about to try and conjure up a kissing Oliver Wood daydream when something falls from above and covers his head and chest with a thump, like a prickly smothering blanket has just been thrown over him.
He gasps and sits up, frantically scrabbling at his face and neck to get whatever the hell it is off him. He looks around wildly and realises that they're leaves, and then realises that Harry Potter is standing a foot away, arms folded, bag on his hip, and jumper covered in errant pieces of leaf and twig.
"That's payback for the apple," he says matter-of-factly, brushing his jumper down.
"You dropped leaves on me?" Draco asks in disbelief, pulling one out of his hair. "What the hell?"
"Well, yeah," Potter says and then lifts his bag off his shoulder over his head and then sits down next to Draco, crossing his legs and looking out over the lake. "Nice view."
Draco stares at him and then goes back to pulling leaves out of his hair, feeling disorientated. He tosses a piece of twig aside and then clears his throat.
"Why're you here?"
Potter shrugs. "Thought you might like some company."
Draco is instantly defensive. "From you?"
Potter shrugs again and pulls his bag over to him. "Take it or leave it."
Without qualm or question, Draco takes it. He's got next to no pride left anyway and he's so lonely that he'll happily sit with anyone who'll have him. Slytherin, Ravenclaw or Gryffindor. Maybe even Hufflepuff.
"Here." Potter opens his bag and pulls out an apple and tosses it to Draco, who catches it reflexively. "I know you missed breakfast."
For a moment, he stares at Potter who just settles back on his elbows, crosses his ankles and stares out over the lake. Draco tries valiantly to work out how Potter knows he missed breakfast and why he would bring him something to eat. He gives up rather quickly, tentatively thinking that maybe Potter might actually just care about him a tiny little bit, what with having saved Draco's life a million times. He looks down at the apple in his hand and then takes a bite, deciding that maybe he doesn't hate them after all.
They sit in silence together for a while. A September breeze rustles the leaves above their heads, and stirs the surface of the lake. Draco feels grateful, and the loneliness inside eases a little. He holds the apple tight in his hand and wonders if it's okay to feel more than grateful for Potter's company, if he's allowed to like it.
"McGonagall says I have to leave you alone," he says after a while, running his thumb over the edge of the bite he's taken out of the apple.
Harry laughs shortly. "Well she didn't tell me I had to leave you alone."
Draco takes another bite and Potter looks up at the crunch, pushing his glasses back up his nose. "Not going to choke?" he asks, and Draco realises he's being teased.
"No," he says, not knowing what else to say.
For some reason, Potter grins at that and Draco feels his heart do a strange flip-flop inside his ribcage. "Good," Potter says, and Draco half-smiles back.
He eats lots more apples between incidents seven and eight, but categorizes them as sub-incidents of number seven because they all follow the same routine. Every now and again, Potter finds him under his tree, throws him an apple and tell him to stop skipping breakfast, you idiot.
"Why would I? I get breakfast brought to me," Draco says seriously and Potter throws a handful of leaves at him.
They've started to talk. Tiny little baby-sentences at a time about things other than apples. It's difficult and sometimes downright awkward, but it's okay.
Draco is about to categorise the day's meeting as seven-point-one-five when it seamlessly morphs into number eight. Potter looks away from the lake, and leans over and kisses Draco on the mouth.
Draco is too surprised to do anything than drop his apple. Potter pulls back and laughs as he sees Draco's incredulous stare.
"You taste like apple," he says.
"Can't imagine why," Draco says blankly, and Potter laughs again. He grabs Draco's scarf and pulls him close, so they're nose to nose.
"You know, you're not so bad when it's just you, Draco Malfoy," he murmurs, and kisses Draco again. This time Draco kisses him back, reaching out to hold onto Harry's shoulder so he can't move away. Potter doesn't move away; he opens his mouth under Draco's and pulls him up even closer.
Draco would wax poetical about the way Potter kisses, or how green his eyes are, or how fate has had them entwined for years and is now merging their paths as one, but he's shit with words. Instead, as Potter rolls them over so he's on top, kissing Draco like he's been waiting to do it for years, he thinks 'this feels rather good,' 'I quite like Potter,' and 'thank fuck for apples.'