This story I wrote for this year's H/D Big Bang on live journal and was, as per the rules, unable to post it anywhere else until the end of October. So here it is! I know I haven't been posting for a while but I AM working on several more H/D fics at the moment that I plan to have done by Christmas. I also just went back to school so writing has, unfortunately, been put on the back burner :( Anyway, for those of you who asked for fics to be emailed to them, I promise I will send the requested stories to you! I just need to dig them off my old computer. So, as no one likes annoying author's notes, on to the fic! Enjoy!

Miles to go Before I Sleep


When Draco met Harry at the robe shop in Diagon Alley, he thought he was the most beautiful boy he had ever seen.

A boy who was short for his age, with hair as black as raven's wings sticking up in a haphazard halo around his head and thick, clunky glasses trying unsuccessfully to hide his vibrant emerald eyes. He was skinny as well, his shoulders sticking out from the neckline of his too-big Muggle shirt. It hung unattractively around his small frame and looked faded, with patches sewn crookedly onto it as if the person who did it couldn't be bothered to care about making them look neat. It should have detracted from his beauty but for some reason, it merely made Draco want him even more.

He wanted to walk up and claim him; wrap his arms around the slender neck and announce to the whole world that this boy with the stunning green eyes and the wild, black hair belonged to Draco Malfoy.

So he had gone about trying to make himself seem as impressive as possible, boasting of the house he was sure he was going to be sorted into upon arriving at Hogwarts and in general acting like a spoiled snot. He had thought, in his ignorance, he would impress the black haired boy but instead the green eyes had darkened with disgust and young Draco couldn't figure out what he had done wrong. Later, when he was older and used to the painful longing that would define his life, he would realize that bragging was no way to impress Harry Potter; or anyone, really, who hadn't been raised to be a pampered brat. Yet how could he have known that then, when his father's money and powerful family name was all he had ever lived with? It had always seemed important to him, so why wouldn't that impress everyone else?

For the rest of the summer he had dreamed about the little raven-haired boy and his beautiful green eyes; about the two of them having all the adventures he had always hoped to share with a good friend. After all, the boy would be going to Hogwarts as well. It would be wonderful if they were sorted into the same house. They would become inseparable: sitting in class side by side, sharing a dorm and getting into all kinds of trouble. It was with this hope that he finished his summer, dreaming about it by night and talking incessantly about the "boy with the green eyes" to his fond mother and over-indulgent father by day. For their part, they had encouraged his enthusiasm for a friend, no doubt understanding that their money tended to scare off potential friends. Their encouragement was helped along by the fact that they had no idea about the true identity of this particular green-eyed boy.

Draco was both crushed and elated when he learned the identity of his beautiful boy.

Harry Potter was a name that every child in the Wizarding world grew up knowing. The Boy-Who-Lived, who defeated the Dark Lord as an infant while losing his parents in the process; he was an idol, famous, a hero. When his name was spoken aloud, it was said with soft reverence and an awed kind of hope. Draco had understood at an early age how special this boy was, even if he couldn't understand the specifics of it, nor why shadows would cross his father's face when Potter's name was said in his presence. Narcissa, though, would sometimes tell the dark, breathtaking story of Harry Potter and how he had survived the most deadly curse known to Wizarding kind and young Draco would drink up every word. So to learn that his dark haired boy from the robe shop was none other than the Harry Potter, Draco had been in just as much awe as everyone else.

At the same time, a dark jealousy rose up within him, though at the time he had not known what it was, being only eleven years old. Harry Potter was a name that belonged to every wizard, every boy and girl on that train and their parents and siblings. He couldn't belong to just one person, not after what he had done, unwittingly though it was. A person who was such a symbol of strength and hope for an entire people would never belong to a single individual.

And yet, it only made Draco want the boy even more.

Only, somehow, he fucked it all up.

He hadn't meant to insult the only person their age that had been nice to Potter upon being introduced into the Wizarding world. He hadn't realized that anyone would willingly befriend a Weasley of all people who, really, was one giant walking insult in and of himself. How could Draco not have slighted him, with all that horrid ginger hair, hideous freckles and Lucius's explanation of a blood feud echoing in his mind? Besides, it was the Weasley's fault for the feud between their families, not the Malfoy's, even if Draco was still fuzzy on the specifics. At any rate, it had been offensive to him that the ginger haired oaf had the nerve to wiggle his way into Draco's green eyed boy's good graces. He had only wanted to put the freckled git in his place. How surprised he had been, then, when Potter had stuck up for the Weasley boy and had turned away in a tiff, leaving behind a shocked and hurt Draco.

That had been the first time Harry Potter had broken his heart.

There had been numerous heartbreaks after that but that first time, when he had offered his hand in friendship only to have it refused, hurt in a way that would quickly become familiar. Draco would learn, as time went by, that Harry would remain the only person he would ever want with an almost mind numbing intensity and the only person he knew he couldn't have. He was so crushed when it turned out his green eyed beauty wanted a Weasley more than he wanted Draco, he had turned to anger in order to hide it, letting his hurt be masked by sharp, bitter hate. But, as the years went by and Harry got older, taller, stronger, even more beautiful, the ache of want never went away.

Now, more than two and a half years after the Battle at Hogwarts, Draco could see clearly all the mistakes he had made in regards to Potter. Harry. He realized that if he had just apologized for insulting Weasley, who would become the dark haired boy's most trusted friend, he might have been able to make Harry see he wasn't just a spoiled brat who worshipped his daddy and thought the rest of the world wasn't good enough for him. But he'd had too much pride and too much hurt and the house rivalries had got in the way. Instead of trying to rise past it, trying to talk to the other boy in a normal setting like a normal person, he would see that shock of red hair at Potter's side and his stomach would twist in anguish. Every time he couldn't help but think, that should be me walking at his side. Weasley has no idea just how lucky he is.

It was one thought that never went away.

The second time Harry Potter broke his heart was when he took to that bushy haired know-it-all who only got better grades than Draco because she lived with her nose in a book. Despite his words, he didn't care about blood purity and whether she was born to Muggle parents. As a matter of fact, there was only one reason why purebloods only married other purebloods and that was because it kept the magic strong. Muggle blood weakened a wizard's bloodline over time and it was important to keep it strong. In fact, even his father, after he had married and grown out if his Death Eater stage, didn't hate Muggles. Not the way he made everyone think. So Draco couldn't give two shits if the Granger girl was Muggle-born. She did, however, become Potter's friend and he ihated/i her for that. She had taken what he wanted and no insult in the world was bad enough for her.

There were so many other occasions that Draco began to lose count. Soon the sharp ache in his chest became a constant thing, a continuous throb that never really went away. It hurt when he heard about the Golden Trio's adventure in the dungeons after first year and then again in second. It hurt when Potter got on the Quidditch team and Draco realized they would always be playing against one another rather than together as he had so often dreamed and that the dark haired boy would be celebrating his victories with someone else. He had nearly broken down and cried in front of three entire schools during fourth year when Potter surfaced from his second Challenge and his most important person was none other than the odious Weasley.

That night, when he had fallen into his bed, sobbing into his pillow, Blaise and Pansy had sought to comfort him to no avail. Every time they said something, all he was able to say was, "It should have been me!" After a while, when they had probably got exasperated with him but wouldn't show it because they were good friends, Blaise asked a question that turned his entire world on its head.

"Draco," he had ventured carefully, "are you sure it's Weasley's place you want or is it…something else?" It had taken the blond days to figure out what Blaise meant but when he did, he realized at once it was true. Draco didn't want to be Potter's best friend. He wanted so much imore/i than that. When everyone had accused the dark haired boy of being the Heir of Slytherin in second year and it tore Harry up, he had wanted to reassure him. And when Weasley abandoned him in fourth year, Draco wanted to go up to the Gryffindor and tell him he would never do such a thing, if given just one chance. No, Draco didn't want to be Harry Potter's friend.

He wanted to love him, like he had known on that very first day in Diagon Alley Harry should be loved; completely, possessively, passionately and without condition or question. And every time he was reminded that it would never be him to give Harry that affection, it would break him just a little bit more.

Then sixth year rolled around and it was the end of everything for a long time except figuring out how to simply survive…

Light spilled into the parlour where Draco reclined in his favourite chair; a sharp, hard winter light that was none-the-less warm as it licked at his skin through the window. It stirred him from his thoughts and he blinked wearily, studying the motes of dust as they danced through it. A mug of rich, steaming cocoa was clutched in his right hand, heating his skin until the fine porcelain was almost too hot to hold. Yet, he ignored it in favour of looking out the large windows that occupied most of the room's wall space. Though the cocoa smelled delightful, bringing to him niggling wisps of memories from happier times, he was too distracted to acknowledge it. Instead he was, once again, like he had done every day since the summer of his eleventh year, thinking about Harry Potter.

It had been several years since the end of the war. Not many, but enough to feel the passage of time as it worked to close old wounds. So much had happened since he had been a foolish teenager with too much angst and not enough foresight. He still remembered the fear clearly, both his own and those of the people he had been trying to protect. Lucius, by then, had understood the folly of becoming a slave to the Dark Lord but it had been too late to do anything about it. There was nothing glorious about being a lackey to an evil overlord and though Voldemort had wielded great power, even Draco had been able to see that the side of the Light would win in the end.

That Harry would win.

Draco supposed that if he had not been in love with Harry Potter already, he would have fallen swift and hard the day of the final battle. Harry had been like an Avenging Angel, emerging from the Forest with his wand steady in his hand and green eyes as hard as emeralds. It had looked almost effortless when he struck down the Dark Lord, dark head shining in the weak light of the sun, face striking and remote. Oh, so beautiful he had been, dirty and injured as he was. That was the day he saved them all from the clutches of evil and returned light to the Wizarding world.

But it had been too late for Draco and his family.

He often told himself since ever since then that he should be grateful that both of his parents had been struck down that day. Narcissa had been killed by her own sister before the Weasley matriarch had killed Bellatrix in a fit of maternal protectiveness. Too late, his heart had wailed as he watched his aunt fall right beside the body of his mother. Lucius had turned on the Dark Lord at the last minute, standing before the doors of the dungeons where the younger children were being hidden, defending them from rabid werewolves that had smelled their young flesh and wanted to rip it apart. Draco had not seen it happen but he heard, later, that it had been Greyback himself that had torn his father's throat out and let his drooling pack rip apart the body until there was barely anything left. Sometimes he thinks that his father would have been happy to know that by dying in such an undignified way, all those students had remained safe.

He was grateful because this way, his parents didn't have to face the aftermath.

One of the Weasley twins had laughed when he retold the story of Lucius's death in the Great Hall after they had managed to save his brother and Draco could not say a single word. Instead he had huddled into a corner, hoping no one would notice him and leaned his head against his knees to hide his grief from the rest of the world. He'd known it would happen; someone like him couldn't expect to do the things he had done and not be punished. And now, now he was all alone, his friends fled or dead after betraying him, his family gone and the mark on his arm sure to condemn him for a long time to come.


It was a word he had contemplated without really understanding what it actually meant. After all, he'd always had his mother and father, he'd had his friends and he'd had the respect of the rest of the world simply because of his name. But only when he had none of that left did he truly grasp the real meaning of that word. Alone meant there was no one at all in the world that understood him, to whom he could speak freely to, who would want to have him around or simply would not spit on his shoes when he went places. Blaise was the first to flee the country, in the middle of sixth year and Draco had still not heard from him. Crabbe and Goyle had betrayed him and both were dead. Theo had denounced him entirely, turning his back and going to the side that had fought against the Dark Lord. And Pansy had left shortly before the battle started.

Leaving Draco to fend for himself.

The years in which he had lived with no one by his side had been the worst kind of hell. The only thing he had from his old life left was his wand, his Manor and the continued aching obsession for someone he would probably never even see again.

Draco often thought that if perhaps he hadn't actually interacted with Harry since the day the dark haired boy had taken his wand from him, he might have been able to get over his thrice-damned crush for the other wizard. But Harry had proven to be as unpredictable as ever, showing compassion where he never had before and giving the blond a glimpse of something beautiful and then snatching it away again. The first time it had happened was the moment Draco realized he had nothing left to live for and had been wishing he could melt into the wall of the Great Hall, since no one would miss him after all. There had been a touch on his shoulder and he had looked up, eyes burning but dry, to see the Saviour of the Wizarding world standing over him, holding out Draco's wand to him. They had stared at one another for a minute, he in confusion, Harry with tired empathy before the dark haired boy had gestured to the wand in his hand.

"Your wand, Malfoy," he'd said quietly, without a hint of impatience or venom the blond was used to hearing from him, "Thank you for letting me use it," and Draco had reached up with trembling fingers, closing his hand around the dark, familiar wood. Their eyes had met then, a clash of green and grey and he had not felt the tears that tracked down his cheeks, the ones that made the other boy's gaze soften and eyebrows knit in sympathy. Harry had opened his mouth, looked like he wanted to say something but at that moment the Weasley girl had marched over and latched onto Harry's elbow, dragging him away.

"Come on, Harry," she had said with a filthy glare at Draco's pitiful figure sitting on the floor before turning simpering eyes upon the dark haired boy, "No need to spend time on Death Eater scum," and Harry had gone without a backwards glance. Draco had watched him go, his entire body numb and after several beats, when he was sure he wouldn't be heard, he whispered softly against his knees,

"It has always been anything for you, Harry,"

The Ministry had set up trials for the remaining Death Eaters, rounding them up and locking them in dark, musty cages before their sentences could be reached. For every single one of them, it was Azkaban and a Kiss; Carrow, Yaxley, Dolohov and others he hadn't even known existed. Draco had despaired, waiting out the days in his cell, barely eating and having nothing else to occupy his mind other than the things he had lost and the fate he was sure to meet.

Except that he didn't, because Harry Potter stepped in for him.

He understood now that it was never for the sake of Draco Malfoy that Harry did it. But at the time the other boy had been like a light in the desolate darkness that had taken over his life and he could not even hate Harry like he wanted to when he was led into the Court room before the entire Wizengamot and Harry spoke up for him. It was humiliating to have all the things he had done and had not done laid bare for the entire world to judge. That he was unable to kill a single old man, that he had been forced to take the Dark Mark and was not strong enough to deny it, that he had tortured and been tortured; that he had been a coward. That he couldn't save his family and he had let a group of Death Eaters into a school full of innocent children, of his peers. He was such a hopeless, pathetic case, he shouldn't even be sentenced.

It was humiliating and relieving and infuriating all at once. They wouldn't take his house but they took his house elves. They wouldn't break his wand but they restricted the magic he could use down to the simplest household charms so that he wouldn't have to live entirely like a Muggle. They wouldn't send him to prison and take his soul from him, but they took all of his money then black listed him so he couldn't even go out and get a job. The sentence was almost worse than Azkaban and Harry had protested as much when Draco himself was unable. But the ruling remained in place. What would he have said anyway? He had seen the hate in their eyes, their need to destroy every single person who had any sort of connection with Voldemort. He had known it was useless.

"I'm going to talk to them," Harry had said without preamble the moment the trial had ended, striding up to Draco as he rubbed his raw wrists, looking like an angry god and despite his anguish and despair, the blond's knees had gone a little weak, "You have to be able to at least support yourself," the outrage was clear in Harry's voice, his hero complex at full steam and just for a second Draco had allowed himself to pretend that he was not going to go home to his empty manor and slit his wrists in his bath. It would be slow but he had heard that it only hurt at first. Then he had accepted his reality and shook his head wearily, looking away from that shocking blaze of green.

"No, Potter. Don't trouble yourself," he'd made to walk away, thinking perhaps it wouldn't be the bath after all but a swift, painless poison in his favourite wine. There were dozens of little phials in his father's workroom, hiding somewhere behind a charmed bookshelf. Then a strong hand that had felt like the sweetest fire against his skin had caught his elbow and he found himself looking into determined green eyes.

"You are not allowed to give up, Malfoy. You owe me that," the words had anger welling up inside of him, furious and trying to choke him so that he could barely breathe around it. Draco had ripped his arm away and snarled in Harry's face.

"Fuck you, Potter. I don't owe you a bloody thing," he'd hissed and, without gauging the look in Harry's eyes that he was terrified would turn out to be pity, he had stormed out. But yet, when he had returned to his manor, echoing and hollow and devoid of life, he had not drawn himself that final bath, nor had he uncorked a bottle of wine and slipped something deadly into it. He had fallen onto the couch in the sitting room right off the main entrance and had thought about Harry's eyes when he demanded the blond not give up.

The very next day he had made his way down to the Manor's library and started reading.

If he was going to live, then he wouldn't remain the pathetic, helpless creature he had turned into. He was a Malfoy and he would pick himself up and put himself back together like one. It was the hardest thing he ever had to do but he did it. Living in the home where he had grown up, seeing the parents he had lost every time he rounded a corner, being so utterly isolated he even forgot what it was like to speak aloud, the stillness sometimes became almost too much. But then he would remember who he was, remember what pride was, remember that he used to have some and then, after all that, he would remember a pair of wide emerald eyes that demanded he try. Then it would ease; the despair, the loneliness, the hopelessness and he could go one more day.

It turned out that one of his ancestors had been rather obsessed with any subject on Healing, Dark or not, and he threw himself into the study with abandon, learning as much as he could, drinking it up like a cool drought of water. It gave his mind something to occupy itself with other than what he had lost, instead forcing him to think of things he could gain. There were still some rough days, especially in the beginning, when he wouldn't want to get out of bed, wallowing away in the depressing knowledge that there would be no squeaky, desperate voice of a family house elf begging him to get up. Other days he would attempt to drink his way through the liquor cabinet and pass out on the cold floor after polishing nearly a bottle of gin. The hangovers, he discovered, were never worth the temporary oblivion but that didn't stop him from getting completely pissed. Most of the time, though, he was able to keep himself occupied with the books, taking notes, learning the anatomy of a human being, how it worked, all of its components and how magic affected the body.

In all honesty, it was fascinating. Draco couldn't get enough of it. He learned about Healing spells for thousands of different curses or simple physical injuries. He learned how to recognize Dark magic and what to do with it when he should run across, say, discerpo proprius, which was a tricky little severing spell mostly used on limbs and which tended to be permanent. He learned that some Healing spells, like correction spells for eyesight or hearing, could also have adverse affects on the human body when used a certain way and then learned about counter spells. He learned about all different kinds of Healing potions and then about a patient's psyche while suffering under magical and non-magical ailments.

It was a way to cope as well as a way to better himself and he clung to it with avid desperation.

Money at first had been tricky and the lack of it nearly did him in. Because the Ministry had taken the Malfoy vaults away from him almost immediately after he was released from their custody, he was left at somewhat of a loss. He had some Galleons that were kept within a warded safe in his father's old study but he knew that anywhere he went that would accept them, people would recognize him and would most likely not sell anything to him anyway. He'd had this revelation the second day, when he had wandered listlessly down to the cold kitchens with a rumbling stomach and found there was nothing to eat.

How did they expect him to feed himself if he had no money with which to buy it and no way to get Muggle money, which he recollected vaguely from Muggle Studies was a different kind of currency than he was used to? A Slytherin, however, is nothing if not resourceful and he had swallowed bile before slipping into his mother's rooms and reverently slipping one of her elegant gowns from its hanger. It could be sold for a good deal of money, even in the Muggle world and even though the scent of her lingered on the material and he longed for her to step into the room so bad it hurt, he knew intellectually she would not need it anymore. So, with tears sliding down his cheeks and neck, he folded it up neatly and took it.

It wasn't like he was caged in the Manor, a fact he was most grateful of because he would have starved in the first week. However, he couldn't Apparate so he was forced to walk to get his food. There was a small Muggle town just a few hours walk from the Manor. In the town there was, luckily, a shop that would buy the dress from him. Unfortunately, the shop was by no means well off and even though he knew nothing of Muggle currency, he knew when he was being greatly underpaid for something. Once, he would have protested loudly, demanded that he got his money's worth but he swallowed his anger and the fact that his mother's dress was worth twenty times what he had been given and nodded his thanks. It didn't help that the girl who worked in the shop could not stop touching it or murmuring how pretty it was. Draco managed not to snatch it back and scream "Don't touch my mother's dress, you unworthy bitch!" by biting hard on his cheek and walking out the door.

He had been able to get his food, though, and even had a few of the soft, colourful slips of paper that was the strange Muggle money left over. When he went home that day, it was with a heavy heart and laden arms.

It turned out that, on top of the Healing he was teaching himself, he also needed to teach himself how to cook. Which was a little bit more complicated seeing as no respectable Malfoy had ever required a cook book and thus he couldn't dig one up from the library shelves. But in that he persevered too, going back to the Muggle town when he ran out of food with two more dresses and returning with more food as well as some books that would tell him how to prepare it. It took some improvising, since he had no Muggle appliances to cook with but after several mishaps and a few childish fits, he learned how to control his spells so that he got the results the books said he should.

Not that he would admit it to anyone, ever, but he actually liked cooking. It was relaxing and when it came out tasting somewhat decent, he felt a fortifying wave of accomplishment.

So he developed a routine, selling not only his mother's dresses but the dozens upon dozens of expensive china and sets of silverware, of which several were solid gold. If he could not sell his possessions to anyone in the town, someone would point him in the direction where he could get money for the objects. Soon he got a reputation for always having something worth looking at. Even if the people could not afford to buy what he was selling they always came to admire his collection and he was always greeted upon entering the town with a cry of, "Hello there, Dragon-boy! Whatcha sellin' today, lad?" They were all kind to him and they believed the rumour that he was some young Lord who had been left with his family's debuts and was trying to pay them off. Draco, in turn, began to look forward to his trips to town. It was better than not having any human interaction at all, he thought. At least the Muggles didn't know the truth about his name nor did they understand the darkness and misfortune that was attached to it. All they saw was a young man who had fallen on hard times and needed money to survive, which he got by selling his possessions. He was more than fair, never even asking for the true value of the things he sold. Many times, he only received half of what they were worth but it was more than enough. He never complained, he never demanded and he was always unfailingly polite.

The girl at the dress shop looked forward to his weekly visits, always swooning over the dresses he bought in, touching each gown as if they were spun from moonlight and embroidered with silk from the stars (his mother actually had a dress like that, though that would remain in the back of her closet for he could hardly sell something so obviously magical in a Muggle shop). He had stopped wanting to hex her during the fifth week or so and now realized his mother would probably be happy if she could see that someone loved her gowns so much.

The girl's name was Doreen, he had learned, and she worked in the shop because her mother was a seamstress but wasn't well enough to leave the house to conduct business. Instead the girl took the orders and her mother would sew them. They sold hand-me-down dresses in order to compensate the low income they brought in and though the business venture had not really taken at first, there was now a steady stream of customers. It was all thanks to Draco, Doreen had informed him one day with a wide smile; because of the fine quality of the dresses he sold to them, they now had people coming in from surrounding counties to buy from them.

She had a fine smile, he often reflected with some regret and it was clear she admired him nearly as much as she admired his mother's dresses, perhaps even more so. Surprisingly, he found he rather liked it; liked the shine in her wide hazel eyes, liked her soft, sunny hair and liked the lilting, brash way she spoke. It was so different from his refined accent and perhaps that was why he enjoyed listening to it so much. It didn't remind him of anything but open fields and something sweet and homey. Alas for her, Draco had never really moved on from his own broken heart and knew he could not offer her the shattered pieces of what was left. It wouldn't be fair. It was a passing fancy but nothing more than that.

With a moue of discontent, he set down his mug upon the table at his elbow and rubbed his hands through his hair, mussing it so that it would probably be horribly tangled when he tried to brush it later. He'd taken to keeping it longer lately, falling in silky waves past his shoulders and every time he saw himself in the mirror, he told himself it wasn't because he looked so much like he father that he did it. Or at least, it wasn't the only reason. Sometimes, isolated in this giant house as he was, Draco was able to believe his own made up delusions. Now he sat back in his chair with a sigh and just stared out the window.

It had been two years and eight months since he had first been dropped into this hell of an existence and he was much better at being able to accept the fact it wasn't about to change but he still had his bad days.

Today had turned out to be one of them.

Usually Draco had a better grip on his emotions. After all, it was his emotions that had got him and his family into so much trouble in the first place. He was determined not to fall into that trap again. He refined his Occlumency shields, constructed them out of ice and then hid everything behind them. Though he was alone most of the time, when he did talk to other people, he kept his true self hidden tightly under the freezing confines of his mind. They didn't need to know anything about him, about how he felt, about his past. The Aurors that came to do his annual interrogation soon learned that nothing they said fazed him in the slightest. He would not be a sport for them, would not be their personal punching bag so that they could take out the frustrations of their inadequate lives on him. No, Draco would be what he had been bred to be; strong, calm, powerful and always coming out on the other end unscathed. He had not understood what that meant when he was younger and it had been a nearly impossible lesson to learn but learn it he did.

Still, that didn't mean he was actually made of ice. Walking through the lonely, echoing halls of the Manor, where the ghosts of his past still haunted him, would sometimes still cut so deep he felt like he was breaking all over again, one painful shard at a time. It was almost worse now because many of the rooms stood completely empty, having been stripped of their furniture and their trappings so he could continue to survive. He would look into them, see their empty spaces and in his mind he would recall what it used to be: what it still should be. Three sitting rooms, several bedrooms, the main dining room and the entire West wing had been stripped and either sold off or, the things he couldn't sell, being magical in nature or simply impossible for him to move very far manually, stored in the cellars that had once been the dungeons. He would see their blank walls and his heart would wail.

Today he was unable to hold it in, unable to maintain control and he had gone into the downstairs parlour, the one his mother used to serve tea to her guests, and destroyed it.

A chair through the window, the small piano gutted and splintered, the heavy glass mirror in sparkling ruins upon the floor, the brass candle sconces ripped from their fastenings and sent through the walls. The couch and the throw pillows that sat upon it were nothing but a mound of thread, stuffing, and driftwood; the elegant chandelier that hung from the ceiling torn down and matching the mirror's doom to become nothing more than fine, shimmering shards of shapeless crystal. When he was done, nothing remained intact. All once expensive possessions were now nothing more than worthless, broken junk.

Like his life had become since the war.

Like he had always been but had never realized.

Draco hurled his mug across the room so it could smash in a streak of cool brown cocoa against the wall. So much for in control, he reflected, burying his face in his palms. The restlessness and helpless anger hadn't been this bad for a while. He had thought he was past all this by now, that he would soon no longer hear his mother's laughter tinkling down the hall or see the image of his father sitting in his chair before the fire in his study. But they still haunted him, followed him around, and called out to him in voices filled with warmth and love. Like they used to when they were alive, before the Dark Lord took everything from them. "Draco…" they called, voices gentle and soft as spring grass, "Draco, Draco, where are you…"

There were seven rooms like the parlour he had wrecked today. Seven times when it became so much he very nearly exploded, screaming his anguish as he clawed and threw and punched and ripped. And they stayed like that, a reminder of his lack of control, of his pain, since he would not show it on the surface. Sometime he debated closing the doors and locking them for good, bolting them up from both sides, windows included, but then for one reason or another, he didn't.

There were plenty of rooms left that remained intact and furnished as they had been for years. His own bedroom, for instance, and his parents, which he refused to touch even should he run out of everything else. Selling his mother's dresses was bad enough but he couldn't bring himself to desecrate the rest of their memories like that. The library also remained as it was, seeing as he couldn't sell any of the books in there to Muggles. There were other rooms too, like this sitting room and the small dining room he usually ate in. But sometimes, at night after a nightmare or in the afternoon when it was sunny and warm, like his mother used to love, he would return to one of those seven rooms and would sit among the wreckage, letting himself remember.

With a long sigh, Draco lifted himself from the chair, knowing he should clean the mess he had made with the hot chocolate or it would stain the wall. He was allowed cleaning charms, thankfully, though not much else and was lifting his wand when he heard a noise from down the hall.

For a moment he was sure he was imagining things, that his forced solitude and heavy grief had finally addled his brains. The only thing that made noise in the house anymore was Draco. Even the house no longer sighed and groaned like he remembered it doing when he was a child. It was just as dead as everything else. But then the sound came again, a soft rustle and then the lilting call of his name.

The ghosts again, he thought sourly but then realized no, that wasn't his mother's voice and it sounded more solid than usual. Not only that but it was accompanied by a presence, something he had not felt for so very long. Someone else was in the house with him, looking for him. There were no house elves to greet them, to tell him there was a guest; there weren't even wards left on the house, since that qualified as more advanced magic and he wasn't allowed even that. Being deeper in the house, he would never hear someone knocking upon the front door. Aurors never bothered with courtesy; they just barged into whatever room he occupied without a by your leave. But this felt different.

Curious despite himself, Draco walked through the door and out into the hall, keeping his fingers on the wand in his pocket. Just because he wasn't allowed to perform strong spells, didn't mean he couldn't and he would defend himself no matter what, even if that meant breaking the terms of his parole. Yet as he came to the top of the curving elegant stairway that led to the first floor, he realized he would not need to defend himself from anything.

Pansy looked the same as she had the last time he had seen her, nearly a year ago when she met him for tea, dark, beautiful and poised. She had always cut an elegant figure and the pale ermine cloak she had wrapped around herself as she stole through the front entrance was as fine as he would have expected from her. Her steps were hesitant as she peered around her and he realized she hadn't been here since Christmas of their fifth year and the Manor had much diminished since then. Her heels kicked up little motes of dust and he knew that he needed to take care of the cobwebs that were starting to accumulate on the ceilings. Many of the rooms on the first floor still had their furniture but with no one to take care of them, they were slowly starting to look shabby. All the brass and silver was tarnishing and the gold becoming dull while the tapestries collected dust. It was a sad state and she was sure to see the difference. What was worse, she was sure to understand why he had allowed it to come to this.

Just then she glanced up to where he stood at the balcony watching her and the sight of him made her pause, eyes going wide. They used to be great friends once, he reflected as he lifted his chin and descended the stairs to greet her, but now they barely knew one another.

Pansy had come back a year after the end of the war, after everything had calmed down a little but Draco had only seen her twice since her return. She had come back with a Spanish husband, a tall man with long, dark curls and the bluest eyes he had ever seen. Marriage had changed Pansy. She was stronger, more self-assured, still very much a Slytherin. Though she was rather prone to be a shrew, her personality was like a honed sword now, rather than a roughly hewn quarterstaff.

"Hello, Pansy," he greeted calmly, voice vague and polite, the perfect tone for a good host, just as he had been taught. He knew what he looked like, in his scruffy jeans that were beginning to fray at the cuffs and were worn at the knees and the soft grey shirt that was missing a button halfway up but was hidden by a darker grey vest. Even his shoes, just a pair of work boots he had found at a second hand shop, were old and scuffed. He looked like a Muggle or, more aptly, like a pureblooded wizard who had simply given up. Both were close enough to the truth. His cool greeting seemed to catch Pansy off guard, though, for she took a moment to stare at him, face slightly pinched, before she answered.

"Hello, Draco. I…should have owled ahead but this visit wasn't really planned," in her voice was regret, though she said it smoothly enough to be the truth. He lifted one shoulder and swept his hand toward the back of the house.

"Do come in," he said graciously, finding it odd to have her there and to be unable to properly treat her like a guest in the Malfoy home. "If you would like some tea, we must retire to the kitchens, for I have no house elves to prepare it for us," he was proud of how cool his tone remained, not giving one hint about how it pained him to be reduced to this in front of a former friend and classmate. She made a soft noise of surprise in the back of her throat but she simply nodded.

"Yes, tea sounds lovely," he took her cloak from her, even though he knew the house was cold because he could not keep it warm magically by himself. Then he led her through the dark halls, once lit with the warm light of candles and charmed fairy lights, now reduced to shadows that whispered to him as he passed. The dining room that lay in a wasted ruin was unfortunately on the way to the kitchens, something he had nearly forgotten until the dark haired woman at his side stopped short with a soft exclamation.

"Oh! Draco, what happened in here?" she asked, voice horrified and eyes wide. He felt a stab of shame and stood next to her looking in on the damage he had done with his own two hands, fighting to keep his shoulders from slumping forward. Pansy pressed her fingers to her mouth before she turned to him, eyes oddly bright, "You did this, didn't you?" she whispered and he ground his teeth together, eyes darting away. There was no accusation or disgust in her gaze but he could not stand the pity he knew he would see. There was a soft intake of breath and he winced, "I should never have left you alone here," and he could hear tears in her voice when she spoke. He took a moment to close his eyes against the jolt of hurt that threatened to climb up his throat.

"Pans, don't," if his command was more of a plea, then he could only blame it on the surge of emotions that wanted to slam him against the sharp, jagged edges of his past. His childhood friend studied him for a moment over her hand before she lowered it regret brimming over on her face.

"I wouldn't have left," she said softly, ignoring his words, "I knew I shouldn't have but my husband…I didn't have a choice," Draco flinched inwardly, suddenly angry with both himself and Pansy and drew himself to his full height so that he fairly towered over her.

"Everyone has a choice, Pansy," he responded icily, wondering if they would have a fight. They used to mock fight when they were younger, just to see what it was like because they never disagreed. But now…now everything was different. She tilted her head and sadness tugged at the edges of her red, plump lips.

"Yes. It was a choice between you and keeping my marriage. Even in Spain they had heard of Death Eaters," it was like a punch to the gut and he had to turn away or he thought she would see what her words had done to him. Back then, he had thought he hadn't had a choice. But there was always a choice. It was a mistake he would not make again. Then a warm hand touched his wrist, the first human touch to be freely given to him since he could remember and he felt his own tears get caught in the back of his throat, "I'm sorry, love. I shouldn't have said that. But it is the reason Manuel wouldn't let me visit you. I should have been stronger, I know but…" she snuck a glance at the ruined dining room and her face darkened once more with the shadows of regret, "He's a good man from a good family and…I can't let him go," it was something he thought he could understand; if he had someone like that, regardless of their blood status, he wouldn't let them out of his sight.

"Then why are you here?" he asked coolly, hating their topic of conversation. He wasn't jealous of Pansy. Sure, Manuel was stunning and he seemed to have taken good care of Draco's friend. No, instead it was what Pansy had with her husband that he wanted. Sadly, there was only one person he ever wanted to share that with and that person had probably forgotten his existence. The dark haired woman looked up at him through her eyelashes and smiled softly.

"You offered me tea?" it was a sly tactic but an effective one, something he recognized from his mother as a tool used to stall for time. It worked though, and he gave her a tight nod before leading her the rest of the way to the large kitchens. He took his time with the tea while Pansy settled herself at the table, folding her hands on its smooth surface and no doubt watching him closely to see if she could read anything from his movements. He knew he was giving nothing away, outwardly cool and collected but inside he was a mess. The words she had spoken in the hall hurt him more than he thought they could because all this time, he might not have been so isolated. But she had chosen her husband's wishes over her friendship. For all the time he had been keeping company with Muggles and ghosts, she could have been here all along.

Then Draco mentally slapped himself. There was no use crying over spilled milk and she was here now, for whatever reason. He had a feeling it wasn't simply to see him but he supposed he should take what he could get. After all, it was better than nothing. He carried the tea over to the table when it was finished, fixing both cups and allowing himself to smile when she made a small sound of pleasure.

"Oh, you remember!" she exclaimed before taking a fortifying sip. Two lumps of sugar and a splash of milk, just as his mother used to take her tea. How could he forget something like that? He himself preferred honey and didn't take milk at all. They drank their tea in silence, studying each other out of the corners of their eyes. Finally the dark haired woman set her cup down and looked at him steadily.

"You've changed, Draco," she murmured and he felt his lips twisting in a wry smirk. What was she expecting? That he remained the same little cowardly twerp he'd been during the war? That he failed to learn the lessons from his parents' death and his loneliness and continued to wear his arrogance like a suit of armour? No, his armour was ice, now; was stillness and blank, lonely walls.

"And how have I changed, darling?" he asked, voice deep and filled with indefinable darkness. The pet name he used to call her when they were in school caught her off guard but she recovered quickly, smiling softly. Once those smiles had been calculating and cool but they had warmed up since they'd last met.

"Well, when I first saw you, I could have sworn you were Lucius," Draco stiffened at that, fingers tightening around his cup but Pansy, if she noticed, pretended as if she didn't, "You used to be, well, we both remember how you used to be. But now…" her gaze was penetrating as she looked at him and he wanted to hide behind his tea cup so that she wouldn't see… "You're colder, now. Like your father but not at the same time. I used to be able to read you so well but I can't see what's going on behind those pretty eyes of yours anymore." He blinked at her in surprise, shocked that she had given so much away but then again, she wasn't the same person anymore either.

"Perhaps that's a good thing," he allowed, lips curling at one corner and Pansy returned it, though the sadness was back in her eyes.

"Perhaps," she mimicked, though he could tell she didn't believe it for a moment. There was a short moment of silence in which he studied the dregs of his tea and she tapped her perfectly manicured nails on the tabletop. It was a habit that used to drive him crazy but now it was comforting. It allowed him to accept that this indeed was real and he wasn't speaking to another one of his ghosts, "Draco…" so many questions in one single word and he cut her off before he was forced to face them.

"Why did you come here, Pansy?" he made his voice soft, made sure his impatience and discomfort was well hidden. His childhood friend sighed and stopped tapping her fingers, getting up to pour herself another cup of tea. Another stalling tactic but he could wait. After all, there was nowhere he needed to be and no one else with designs on his time. He waited calmly as she stirred in her sugar and milk, waited as she took a long sip, and then another.

"I need your help," she finally said, not meeting his gaze and he swallowed a snide remark. Of course she did. She would not have come here, risking her husband's displeasure, if she didn't need something important. For a moment, Draco felt a flicker of dislike for this Manuel for taking the companionship of a long time friend from him and then for Pansy for allowing it to happen. But it was gone as soon as it had come because one of the things he had promised himself when he vowed he would change would be to stop blaming everyone else for his misfortunes.

"With what?" he asked mildly, preparing his own second cup of tea. Instead of answering directly, however, Pansy reached into the clutch she kept on her wrist and pulled out a newspaper, her bottom lip caught between her pearly teeth. He saw her hesitate for a moment before unfurling the paper and pushing it across the table at him.

"Please, before you react, or make judgment, I ask that you read the whole article and then tell me what you think. Just know that it isn't what it seems," It was a copy of the Daily Prophet, dated two days prior. A large picture donned the front page of a man about their age with wavy black hair and a put-upon wearied smile that looked more malicious than anything else, under the headline of An Abusive and Twisted Savior? Underneath it, in smaller letters that had Rita Skeeter slime all over them, it said, your exclusive into the dark, perverted and often violent life of the Boy Who Lived. The words twisted at Draco's heart and he swallowed disgust when the dark haired man in the picture eyed him slyly.

"What is this?" he demanded; voice a harsh rasp. It had been years since he was forced to read something about Potter and now it dredged up all those things he had strove to bury so desperately. He hadn't read the newspaper since before the war had ended, seeing as he didn't have a way to get it and he preferred it that way. Pansy just gestured to the article with a wave of one dainty hand and he swallowed, stealing himself as he pulled it closer to him. Even though vitriol was sure to spew from the page, he knew that reading this would only sure up his obsession for the green eyed man once more.

There have been many articles written about the Boy Who Lived, interviews and the like, giving Mr Potter's adoring public a glimpse into the life of what it must be like to be such a well-known figure in our world. Everyone has a right to see what this man, who has saved us all from the clutches of a mad Dark Wizard, is like in everyday life. We were with him when he stepped off the battlefield, triumphant and strong and then again when he proposed to the girl who everyone thought would be the lucky one to tie him down. Subsequently, we were there too when they broke it off. That, of course, was such a big shock, for not only did Mr Potter announce that he would not be marrying his childhood sweetheart but that he was not even attracted to women!

At this point Draco made a strangled noise and dropped the paper to the table, staring at the moulted, black and white pages in disbelief. It was the usual rubbish that he had been expecting, of course, but everything the Prophet reported since the war always had some grain of truth. Potter was gay? The very thought had his ears ringing and the breath catching in his chest. Without thinking, he snatched the paper up and continued to read without prompting.

Such a discovery resulted in a public disowning of Mr. Potter from his adoptive family, the distinguished Weasleys, which is understandable, one must admit, about which several in detail articles have already been written by yours truly. He stopped again and inhaled deeply, knowing his hands were shaking but not knowing how to make them stop. The Weasleys had denounced Harry, when they were not even worthy enough to lick the bottom of his boots? It made Draco sick, wondering how devastated Harry had been from that and saw a pair of stricken green eyes in his mind. It shouldn't still hurt, he thought, to remember that gaze but it did. Almost three years later, it still did.

Pansy was watching him closely, undoubtedly noting that he'd gone white and that he couldn't keep his hands steady. She and Blaise had been the only ones to understand how he had felt about Harry Potter, the only ones he had trusted to tell. So she would know how this filth affected him. It was probably why she had shown the article to him, though to what ends he couldn't guess. Today, I have been fortunate enough to interview Alexander Huff, a man that has grudgingly stepped forward to admit that he is the former lover of Mr Potter. Though he comes across modest and kind hearted, I have managed to convince him to sit down to an interview with me, to talk about what it was like to be on the receiving end of Mr Potter's affections. Draco felt like retching, tasting bile at the back of his throat.

"Thank you for meeting with me, Mr Huff. May I call you Alexander?" Mr Huff smiles, a warm, open smile that suits his handsome features and he might have laughed, had he not so many haunted shadows lingering behind his dark eyes.

"Please, just Alex is fine, Miss Skeeter," he is like a breath of fresh air, so friendly and obliging. I must admit I am quite charmed.

"Then I insist that you call me Rita. Now, I am to understand that you and Mr Harry Potter were a bit of an item for a while?" I ask with as much sensitivity as I could. After all, it is due to his goodwill that this article is written at all. He continues to smile but I could tell it is tarnished somewhat by the mention of his former lover's name.

"Harry and I were…together, yes," he responds lightly as if it does not pain him to say Mr Potter's name. I could tell otherwise, however, and that is a curious thing indeed.

"Tell me, how long were you together?"

"Almost seven months," he answers quickly and finally his smile fades a bit, like he is remembering things during those months that were not as wonderful as someone who dated such a prestigious person as Harry Potter should be. In fact, his dark eyes practically beg to be asked the story, so he did not have to keep such dark things to himself…cont. pg 6…

Draco closed his eyes and laid the paper down, knowing where this was going. The same place it always did when Harry was involved and people pretended to know him. Pretended they owned him, pretended to give a shit about him while they tore him down and stabbed him in the back. He hated it. He hated them. He would not have treated Harry so poorly, whether he was the Saviour of their world or he was just some little orphan boy in a robe shop, with wide, wondering green eyes and a vulnerability to his slender shoulders. When he flipped to page six, there was a decent sized picture of Harry himself and Draco felt like he had been punched in the chest.

Harry wasn't looking at the camera but at something off in the distance, green eyes misty with something indefinable. As it continued to play, the familiar face that had become stronger and even more beautiful then the blond remembered suddenly lit up, as if he had just seen a wish come true right in front of him. Draco was so jealous of the owner of that smile, he nearly choked on it.

"What…what is the point of this, Pansy?" he barely even recognized his own voice, rough and filled with things that shouldn't be given a name. Pansy's perfect eyebrows knitted together and she reached over to lay a gentle hand over his. Oh, she knew, damn her. She knew how this was tearing him apart.

"I'm so sorry, Draco. Read the rest and I will explain it," he held her gaze for a long moment, wondering if he should just tell her to go to hell but this was Harry. Draco knew he would do as she asked.

"Can you tell us about your time with Mr Potter, Alex?" I ask gently and see his hesitation, as if he doesn't want to dwell on something unpleasant. His entire face falls, that little light that shines from his face when he smiles extinguished now.

"We were…happy for a while. Harry is a very good-looking man and he, at least at first, comes across very kind. I had hired him to set up the wards for my new business and something just clicked. He was funny and had a sharp wit and I was very flattered when he asked me out to dinner. I thought I was so lucky to have been asked out on a date with none other than Harry Potter," Alex gives a brave little smile, though it quite clearly pains him to do so and he looks nervous for the first time since we have started. Something about his words, though, catch me as slightly odd and I find myself curious about their meaning.

"I'm sorry, but you said he seemed kind at first? Surely Mr Potter isn't anything but kind," Though I have seen it little, many people claim that Harry Potter is a perfectly polite and respectable man. To hear otherwise is….odd.

"Oh, I did. Well, like I said, it started out wonderful. We went out more and more often, finding that we had a lot in common and he was interested about my line of work, as I was with his. But then…something started to go wrong," Alex hesitates again, fidgeting in his seat and it is a sad sight indeed to see a man that had been so warm before seem so down cast.

"If this is too painful for you, Mr Huff…" I begin but he cuts me off with a small shake of his head.

"No, not at all, Rita. It's just…hard you know? I fancied myself in love with him and I thought that he loved me as well. But…well, let's just say that what he turned out to be was a complete surprise," As much as I do not want to disturb Mr Huff with bringing up painful memories, I must admit my inquisitive nature got the best of me.

"I'm terribly sorry, Alex, but would you care to elaborate for me?" he sits very still for some time, like some tragic character from a classic tale of broken love and I begin to wonder whether he will answer my question at all. But then he lifts his head and looks out the window, as if the sunlight can offer some comfort from the darkness of his thoughts.

"He was…remarkable…I mean, not to be crude, but he was incredible in bed. Anything a partner could have asked for. Gentle, considerate. And then, as the weeks progressed, he got steadily more violent. It started with…with the bindings and then began to spiral out of control. I wasn't worried at first. I thought that perhaps he just had different…preferences," Alex laughs uneasily here, like he's terrified about giving out such lewd secrets but willing to brave the consequences anyway. Again I am struck by his courage and give him all the support I can, "But then he started taking his violence out of the bedroom, would punish me, physically and mentally, for things I didn't even remember doing. He became scary. Possessive to the point of locking me up in our own flat, taking away my food for days sometimes, getting jealous over the oddest things. I no longer had a life. I belonged to him, like a slave…" Here Alex's voice breaks and I give him all the time he needs to recover, horrified by the things he had—

Draco threw the paper from him with a snarl of rage, anger coursing so thick through his veins, he was sure it would set the air around him on fire. "What utter, fucking crap," he cried, tugging at two fistfuls of his hair while wondering where his fine honed control had gone. He never had a chance at keeping his composure when it came to Harry, though. He wanted to break something, to rage, to hurt this lying, deceitful bastard who spread such filthy lies that it made the blond so ill just thinking about them. How could anyone believe this? "Why?" he demanded, gaze hard as he stared at his friend who still sat watching him calmly from across the table, "Why the fuck did you make me read that?" she titled her head to the side and sighed.

"You don't believe any of it?" she asked cautiously, almost expecting him to lose his rage completely and he suddenly wished he could. But he struggled with his anger and reined it in, forced it back under the finely hewn ice.

"Of course not. Even a blind man could see what rubbish this is." She smiled at that, a relived little smile as if she hadn't been sure herself that Draco would react this way.

"Indeed. Draco, I know this isn't going to be easy but just listen until I'm done, alright?" she waited for his sharp nod before settling into her chair and once again folding her hands in front of her. Their tea sat cold and forgotten on the table between them, "When Manuel and I had just bought our London town home, we were looking for someone to ward the property. To my surprise, everyone I talked to recommended Potter. They said he was the best in England," Draco made a small noise of shock and Pansy smiled knowingly. Warding anything took a good deal of both power and finesse, for the webs that the wards formed were extremely complex, even the simplest ones. Though Harry had always been powerful, it always seemed to come out in brute strength rather than done with any style: that he worked with wards was a bit of a surprise.

"He lived up to his reputation, Draco. And he doesn't just "work with wards". He's a Ward's Keeper, which is the highest level they can reach. He's very, very good at what he does. The thing with wards, though, as I'm sure you know living in a house that once had the most complex wards in the country, is that they take a long time to set up. So we ended up spending a lot of time together," Pansy's smile was gentle, more so than he had ever seen it and he realized that it was for Harry. He clamped down on his jealousy once again.

"So you became friends," he said, voice flat and his dark haired friend nodded, playing absently with the fine handle on her teacup.

"I know, shocking. Especially after the way I treated him and his friends in school. But he's not the giant prat I had always thought him to be. He has a wickedly sharp sense of humour and he is a great listener. I could prattle for hours and he would just sit there and listen to me talk," Draco gulped down his cold tea so that it would settle his stomach but instead it became a hard, icy block. While he had been sitting here, alone with nothing but his books and the occasional jaunt into town, Pansy had been cozying up to Potter. It left a bitter taste in his mouth and made stomach cramp uncomfortably, "I think he was lonely. It was after the Weasleys dumped him and he came out that he was gay. It isolated him from everyone except for a few others that stayed by his side. Granger did, though I don't think I will ever like the bint," she paused and her eyes darkened.

"Alex was the one that did the wooing, not Harry. When he met Alex, he didn't like him at first but he was quickly won over. And…he seemed so happy. Finally, he would say, there was someone who was willing to give him a chance. Not because of his name but because of who he was as a person," she fiddled with her cup then crossed her arms uncomfortably after a bit of a hanging pause, "How can you live in a house with no heat?" she griped, shivering a little and Draco shrugged, impatient to hear the rest of the story. He flicked his wand and uttered a soft warming charm before gesturing for Pansy to continue as soft, gentle heat eased over them. She paused then took a deep breath.

"I don't know how it started. Harry only just told me some of what happened, so I don't know everything. But he started getting distant, about three months after they started dating, right around when they moved in together. He would blow us off for drinks, saying that Alex wanted him home for one reason or another. Sometimes he would have strange injuries on him when we did see him, like rope burns on his wrists. When I think back on it, I can't believe I didn't realize what was going on but Harry hid it well," Draco, realizing exactly where this was going, thought for a moment he was going to be sick. It couldn't be true that someone would do something like this, let alone to Harry. Something inside of him beat against the ice he kept his heart caged in, threatening to break it.

"He started turning clients down, something Harry never did before, started closing himself in his house, refusing to even answer his Floo when one of us checked up on him. Sometimes Alex would answer and inform us that he was just tired or he was in the middle of something. But sometimes no one would answer at all, even though we all knew they were both home…" she trailed off, a deep crease marring her brow and Draco wondered what it must have been like, to have a friend in a situation like that and not knowing what was going on, getting frantic, fearing for them. She had more lines on her face than he remembered seeing on her before.

"We?" he asked in the lull, thankful for the reprieve. Though he hadn't eaten since breakfast, it was threatening reappearance and the thundering against his defences was getting stronger.

"Oh, myself, Granger, Longbottom and a man named Daniel Sinclair, who worked with Harry a few times on some of the more difficult warding projects. After the fallout with the Weasleys, we were the only people Harry had left, including a older man who was his teacher," Draco nodded and got up to pour them both more tea, if just to give his hands something to do, "He started to alienate us next. When we saw him, he would insult us, be rude, try to get us to fight with him. The others, they couldn't see how much it hurt him to do it, like he needed to push us away or something even worse would happen. Not even Granger realized it," Pansy sniffed, her distain for the other witch clear on her face. If she had been as easily fooled as the dark haired woman suggested, Draco could hardly blame her for her disgust.

"It all happened so gradually that we barely even realized it wasn't normal for Harry to act like he didn't want us around and only saw us because he felt obligated. Now, of course, I see that it was because Alex," the inflection on the name was spat out with such venom he nearly flinched, "was forcing him to get rid of his friends and to make it so that we wouldn't want to pursue his friendship or find out what was wrong. I don't know why Harry stayed with him as long as he did but by that time I think it was fear more than anything else," she picked at her nails now, obviously nervous and upset. He didn't offer her comfort nor did he wish to. The person he wanted to comfort was not here; was far away and probably suffering quietly, just like he always had. Pansy seemed to be thinking along the same lines though because her face crumpled momentarily and she rubbed her fingers over her eyelids.

"I thought about coming to you before, when it first started to get bad. I kept thinking that even if Harry didn't want anything to do with you, you would at least drive Alex away, do something to make him stop hurting Harry. But then I would think…well, I didn't think it was a good idea," there was a heavy silence in which he could see all the things that could have been, if different choices had been made. But he was used to that because that was how he would punish himself when he was alone and wallowing in his self-pity.

"But it's a good idea now?" he finally ventured, voice harder than he intended to make it. Pansy met the harsh tone head on, something she had always been good at and inclined her head so that she was staring at the smiling picture of Harry in the paper.

"Harry disappeared, Draco," she whispered and he had to hold himself very still before he could betray himself, "For weeks no one could find him. By that time, it was just me and Longbottom who still gave a shit. Granger, for all of her excuses, just couldn't take it anymore and abandoned him like the Weasleys had. She said that if Harry really didn't want it, then he was strong enough to tell Alex no on his own. How little did she realize, did any of us realize, just how trained the bastard had him. He…when I found him, he was…he was chained, wearing nothing but a collar and an old pair of pants. He'd been…he'd been beaten…" she gave a soft sob, hiding her eyes behind her hand for a brief moment and the feelings that were battering at Draco's defences became more insistent, slamming against them fiercely until he was positively dizzy with it. His knuckles were white where he was gripping the arms of his chair and he could feel his magic, long since subdued and little exercised, beginning to creep dangerously from his pores. It had been so very long since he had lost control of his magic but he was about to now.

Pansy took a moment to compose herself. Her obvious distress proof was how much she had come to care for Harry, "It was almost a month after he had disappeared and I was frantic. Longbottom had Flooed everyone he could think of, searching for news on Harry's whereabouts; he even got Minister Shacklebolt involved. But we both knew where he was. The same place he had been all along…

"It took me nearly two full days to force my way through the wards on Harry's flat and I think the only reason I even got through was because he purposely weakened them in hopes someone would try eventually to get to him," she took a deep breath and stared at a spot over Draco's shoulder, eyes dark and full, "I suppose I was lucky I caught them at a time when Alex was out. He's not a terribly intimidating person, especially not after some of the people we had to deal with during the war, but there is something about him that scares the shit out of me." She smiled weakly, an expression more like a grimace than anything else, "well, now that I know better, anyway," He didn't like to think about Harry with someone who scared Pansy, something he used to think impossible.

"Merlin, Draco you should have seen him. Though I suppose it was good that you didn't because you'd be in Azkaban," she shook her head and Draco ducked his head, trying to rein in his fury. Draco didn't give a fuck about prison; he vowed to himself that the man wouldn't be able to do much of anything except decompose quietly in the ground by the time he caught up with him. "And I know what you're thinking darling, but don't. Harry wouldn't want that," in a fit of anger, he slammed his fists down on the table, making the tea cups rattle and Pansy jump, eyes going wide.

"Because I'm sure this bastard did all of what Harry wanted him to! Fuck! You're right, if I ever meet this Alex, I will make him wish he had never been born!" he was seething, the emotions coming off of him in rolls of excess magic, which trembled in the air like a shimmering mirage of heat. His friend was eyeing him but it wasn't in concern or fear but fond affection.

"Yes, I had a feeling you would react that way," she said, not a hint of regret in her voice and Draco was suddenly reminded why they had been such good friends once upon a time. Perhaps not everything had changed after all. Her sly agreement served to settle him down some and he slumped into his seat, not even aware that he had risen in the first place. When Pansy started speaking again, her voice was stronger, as if Draco's display of anger gave her a boost of confidence, "Anyway, when I got into the house, I found Harry chained to the wall in the study by his neck and he could barely focus on anything, he was so out of it. He didn't even remember me at first. He just kept saying over and over again that he was sorry," she was shaking now, furious just from her memories.

"As I said, he'd been beaten. There were bruises all over him and there were wounds on his back, like he had been whipped. Alex would…punish Harry by starving him, would leave him there for days with a fucking bucket for a bathroom. It was like he was some misbehaved Crup puppy who had torn apart the closet. Only he wasn't as nice to Harry as he probably would have been to an animal. It was…it was…" she finally stopped, white with anger and pain for her unlikely friend. Draco listened quietly while he stormed and seethed in the privacy of his own mind. He was mentally going through the books he had still stashed away in his library, the Darkest ones that hidden behind other less threatening books, picking curses he remembered learning from their pages and mentally categorizing them to see if he could recall the worst ones. He tried to recall the ones that would inflict the most damage and do it as painfully as possible. There were a couple of possibilities that wouldn't even reveal him as the castor. He stored them away for future reference; there would be time to exact punishment on Harry's behalf later.

"What would you like me to do?" he was relieved that his voice was steady and cool once more, his emotions soothed by his budding plans for revenge. His eyes had tracked back to watch the picture of Harry from the paper as the man's smile bloomed into being over and over again, making the blond feel a little short of breath. Harry truly was magnificent.

"He's broken, Draco," Pansy said softly, sadly, eyes opaque, "I managed to get him out of there and I've hidden him so Alex can't find him but…he's still terrified. He can't even function around other people. No one can touch him, he won't eat…he's wasting away in one of my guest bedrooms and there's nothing I can do about it!" her voice caught at the end, despair ringing through the rapidly cooling air of the kitchen as Draco's charm wore off, the sound extending into the silence. For a moment neither of them moved; even if the house was burning down around his ears, the blond didn't think he could move. He took one breath, then another and another, counting each one as he did. Why did things like this happen, he wondered to himself. Why did such bad things happen to good people? But most of all, he couldn't figure out why he felt so much hope that Pansy had come to him with this, so much hope that he barely recognized the emotion after so long of feeling nothing but chilling despair and damning regret.

Finally, he couldn't sit there anymore and stood abruptly, the sound of his chair scraping along the tile loud and startling in the still kitchen. The window in the back of the kitchen faced the gardens that his mother had once loved enough that she tended them herself and he stood close enough to it that he could feel the sharp cold seeping in from around the glass. In the past two years, most of the garden had turned to ragged, overgrown weeds that now looked like nothing more than a tangle of twigs. There was one section, though, now dormant in the face of winter, which Draco had remembered to diligently tend every year once the earth thawed. Neat rows of leafless rose bushes that stood even taller than him marched in even lines at the very heart of the garden, which would bloom with huge, richly coloured flowers in the summer. They were one spot of beauty left in his life and when he walked through them, their full scent always reminded him of his mother's smile. Though they were just rows of knobby sticks now, the sight of them calmed his racing heart just a bit.

"Why?" he whispered, warm breath misting against the clear glass, "What do you think I can do?" what makes you think he will even allow me near him? But that question remained unasked, for he feared the answer. What would he do if he went to see Harry, to help him, to hold him, to heal him and the man pushed him away like Draco suspected he probably would? They hadn't parted ways as enemies but neither had they been friends. Pansy sighed behind him, a soft exhalation of air.

"Darling, do you know that the world was done with him the moment he killed the Dark Lord? They didn't care about Harry; he was their source of entertainment. One moment they loved him and the next, he was being ostracized, criticized for the choices he made, for just being himself. Who else, then, would care enough to help him, if not you?" she waited a breath as the blond sucked in an icy breath of air then said, "There is no one else who loves him like you do…like you always have," he closed his eyes tightly against the words but they lingered anyway. His one weakness, the one thing that could always break through whatever defences he had built, no matter how impervious he believed them.

How will any of that matter he nearly asked but as he pressed his forehead against the chilled window, he remembered the words his mother had spoken to him one hazy summer day in the very garden he looked out upon now, her words illustrated by the cloying smell of the roses and the warm touch of the wind. "Draco," she had said after he had reluctantly confided in her about unrequited love and giving up on it, "The strongest and most beautiful force in this world is love, no matter its form. To give up on it, even if it is never returned or it breaks you beyond repair, is the greatest sin one could ever commit. Remember this, my son, if nothing else; keep your heart open to love. It will be returned to you one day."

He still remembered them as clearly as if his mother had spoken them to him this very morning. Though he had yet to see proof of her words and he believed that one had to do something to earn love rather than just wait for it to come along, there was still something in him that wished it was true. When he finally opened his eyes, he saw that snow was slowly beginning to fall; tiny, lacy flakes that looked so brittle against the stark, bleak landscape of the neglected Manor grounds. He didn't know if he could see Harry again; he didn't know if he even wanted to because he was afraid of the pain, afraid of how his heart would be sure to break all over again if he did.

But then, he realized, he had already made his decision. It didn't matter if Harry would ever return his love or not. He wasn't going to do this for that reason. He was going to do it because, despite everything, his heart still beat for just one man. It had never stopped. Turning, he gathered his courage around him and lifted his chin as he met Pansy's eyes.

"Take me to him,"

To be continued...

I will post a new chapter every week! Thanks for reading and don't forget to drop a review! XOXO