Title: Back From the Edge
Summary: Faint though it seems to him, Draco hears the scrape of metal across stone echoing in his ears and with a quiet sigh of relief, he closes his eyes and hopes as he lets the darkness take him.
Disclaimer: All Harry Potter characters herein are the property of J.K. Rowling and Bloomsbury/Scholastic. No copyright infringement is intended.
Warning(s): 8th-year, graphic self harm, disability (loss of use of a limb), angst, hurt/comfort
Epilogue compliant: What epilogue?
Word Count: 7,961
Author's Notes: Many thanks to my lovely beta for her work betaing this for me – you're a dear. For my recipient – You said you liked angst, and somehow that one little word sort of...spiralled out of control thanks to Draco, who really is an angsty thing sometimes! Hopefully you like what's come of it all!
Draco's breath is coming in harsh pants when he makes it into the boys' bathroom, and he nearly slams into the wall as he comes skidding to a stop at the end of the row of stalls. As it is, he only just avoids hitting the stones with all the weight of his body, but takes a sharp scrape of his shoulder against them that pulls a hiss from between his teeth. He slams the door of the last stall behind him as he steps into it and slides the latch over to hold it shut. The sound of the latch sliding into place is almost deafening as it echoes in the empty bathroom and it rings in his ears as he spins a little too quickly on his heels and flings his arms out to catch himself by gripping onto the side wall of the stall.
His stomach lurches then as he tries to take a breath, and with a choked sound, Draco drops himself down to his knees in front of the toilet, letting out another hiss of pain as his knees collide with the hard floor under him. He hardly has enough time to get his hands on the edges of the bowl before he doubles over and retches, squeezing his eyes closed as he does so. For a moment, he almost wishes he'd actually gone down to the Great Hall for lunch, rather than skip, because the acidic burn in his throat is worse than usual as his body heaves with the effort to purge his already-empty stomach.
By the time it finally stops, Draco's knuckles have gone white from the force of gripping the bowl and his body is still trembling. He takes a moment to try to clear his mouth of the taste of acid to no avail before he moves, sitting back onto his heels and then twisting to the side. He presses his back flat against the stone wall and slides his feet out from under himself until his arse hits the floor, dropping his head back against the wall as he focusses on taking one deep breath, followed by another. It doesn't do much to calm the frantic panic in his mind, but it's enough to steady his body, easing the trembling until it stops entirely and he knows he can move his hands the way he needs.
He keeps his eyes closed as he reaches into an inner pocket of his school robes and closes his fingers around a familiar leather-wrapped handle. The panic eases for a moment as he draws the blade out of his robes and lays it across his lap, and stays down while Draco rolls up his left sleeve to the elbow to leave the length of his forearm bare. Draco opens his eyes then and looks down. He always has to look. To remember. And he takes in the lines of scars already crossing over the flesh of his arm, some of them old and already beginning to go white with healing, while others are still the raw pink of just-healed flesh. A few of the lines are still fresh, just a few days old and haphazardly closed, and he traces his right hand over these few marks, sucking in a sharp breath through his nose at the stab of pain that rips through his arm even at the light touch.
Still, he traces the lines again and again, momentarily mesmerized by the way they break through the stark black lines that also mar his flesh. In some places, the Mark is almost unrecognisable beneath the scars, but there aren't enough just yet to cover it entirely. When he finally pulls his hand away a moment later, Draco curls it around the handle of his blade again, the leather worn and warped to meld into the shape of his grip from so many nights holding it in this same way.
Draco pulls his knees up slightly and lays his left arm across his lap, angled just so, where he can see exactly where he's cutting and have the best angle to manoeuvre the knife. He takes one last deep breath to steel himself and curls his hand tight into a fist as he moves the blade. The tip of it presses hard into his skin for a brief moment before he turns his hand to press the edge of the blade against his arm and drags it across his arm once.
The knife cuts through his flesh with no resistance, and Draco bites down on his lower lip until it bleeds, only to bite harder as he marks a third cut into his arm. He drags the blade over his skin four more times before he stops and lets the handle slip from his grasp. When it clatters to the floor, the sound of the steel hitting stone is a little too distant to Draco's ears, and he takes his first proper look at his arm since he began.
It's almost impossible to see the Mark, or even a glimpse of skin, beneath the blood smeared around and still bubbling up from the opened wounds. The sight of it all hits him hard, and without thinking, Draco scrambles unsteadily up to his knees to turn himself towards the toilet yet again. He only grips on with his right arm as he retches for the second time, but his body trembles and wavers as though he's been hunched over that bowl for hours. When he tries to sit back again, his head swims and he simply slumps against the hard edge of the toilet. His head rests against the cold surface, and it grounds him just enough to think through the swimming haze creeping into his mind.
So much blood...
Even without looking, he knows there's too much this time. More than he's used to seeing, even on the nights when he'd sat in his rooms at the Manor cutting line after line into his arm until his hand had ached from holding the blade too long. But they had been more shallow, then, back before he'd tried to make them scar, and this time, the feeling of the blood still running over his skin tells him he's gone too far. He's cut too deep. And Draco squeezes his eyes closed with a feeble moan as he tries to decide whether it's better for him to stay where he is or stumble the few steps he’ll need to possibly make it to the main floor of the bathroom.
He makes his decision the moment he tries to lift his head up only to be met by an overcoming wave of vertigo that makes the entirety of his world spin and topple sideways before he catches himself against the edge of the bowl again. Another sound slips from his lips, then, caught between a whimper and an unintelligible curse as Draco tries to cling to consciousness for just a moment longer, wondering and waiting to see if maybe he might get lucky just this one time. To see if just maybe the door will swing open and he can make some noise to attract attention and someone will come save him.
And for a second, he thinks it's happened – thinks he hears the door to the bathroom swinging open, and with Draco's last grasp on awareness quickly slipping through his fingers, he does the only thing he can and gives a feeble kick back behind himself with his left leg, catching the blade with the toe of his boot just before he flings his leg back awkwardly with all the force that he can muster.
Faint though it seems to him, Draco hears the scrape of metal across stone echoing in his ears and with a quiet sigh of relief, he closes his eyes and hopes as he lets the darkness take him.
When Draco wakes, it's to the powerful stench of antiseptic and cleaning products surrounding him, and he knows without opening his eyes that he's in a hospital. Whether it's the wing at Hogwarts, or if he's been taking to St Mungo's, he isn't certain, but there's no mistaking the smell that burns in his nose. A small shuffle in the bed that he's laying on confirms the fact when he feels the starched and pressed sheets that offer no comfort and even less warmth, serving more as a covering for the patients than anything. He waits for several minutes, straining his ears for some sound that might tell him exactly where it is, but when none comes, he succumbs to curiosity and open his eyes only to squeeze them tightly shut again.
The bright light from the overhead bulb is burned into the backs of his eyes for a long moment, and Draco waits it out, watching the colour shift from blinding white to muted yellow, orange, and finally into black. This time, he cracks his eyes open first, turning his face slightly to one side to avoid another full-on view of the light, and is rewarded with a more tolerable brightness assaulting his eyes.
He blinks slowly several times until it seems like his eyes have adjusted, then opens them fully to take a look around the room. The familiar layout of Hogwarts' hospital wing greets him, empty save for himself, although he sees the door to Madam Pomfrey's office is ajar. With a sigh of relief, Draco simply drops his head back down onto the stiff pillow beneath him and closes his eyes again for another few moments.
The fact that neither of his parents is hovering at his bedside at the moment is simultaneously a relief and a concern as Draco frowns to himself. Perhaps the damage had not been severe enough for the school to have felt it necessary to inform his family – if they'd been confident that he would be fine, there was a chance that the decision of whether or not to inform them, or anyone else, of what happened would be left up to him. For a fleeting moment, Draco feels hope that such might be the case, before reality crashes down around him and he turns his head to the left and opens his eyes once again.
His arm is wrapped in strips of clean white cloth, wound from his elbow down to cover even his hand, leaving it immobile. Again, Draco takes note of the strong antiseptic smell that seems almost too close and too fresh. With a frown, he starts to lift his arm and lets out a hiss of pain as his shoulder protests the movement. His forearm, he notices, is strangely numb, leaving him unable to even feel the layers of gauze beneath the cloth scrape against what he knows is raw and injured flesh. Gritting his teeth, Draco continues to try to move, despite the sharp pains in his shoulder, but after a moment of frustrating struggle during which he's unable to move anything but his bicep up from the bed, he reaches over with his other hand and lifts his arm until it's up nearer to his face. He breathes in once, slow and deep.
From this close, the smell is almost enough to make him gag, and Draco quickly lowers his arm back to the bed, taking care to settle it gently onto the mattress.
There is no chance that his family hasn't been notified of his injuries. From the smell alone, he knows that those potions aren't the sign of anything good, and there isn't even the slightest note of sweetness that might imply they're meant to heal the older scars he's already left behind. Draco's certain there's more than one potion currently coating the length of his forearm, and every one of them is for infection, though whether to prevent them, or heal one that has already set in, he's not entirely certain. Most likely, it's a mix, given the place where he'd lost consciousness...
Draco shudders at that thought, and the movement jostles his shoulder a bit again and pulls another pained hiss from between his teeth, just as he hears the door at the opposite end of the room swing further open. He opens his eyes again just as Madam Pomfrey is approaching his bedside, but she doesn't meet his eyes. Instead, she circles around to the left side and focusses all of her attention on the strips of fabric around his arm as she begins to unravel them one strip at a time. The silence is uncomfortable enough that Draco opens his mouth to say something, only to find that his throat feels far too dry to speak and he promptly snaps his mouth closed again. He pauses, swallows slowly once and clears his throat, and then tries to speak again, but Madam Pomfrey cuts him off, speaking in a sharp tone with her gaze anywhere but on his face.
"Headmistress McGonagall would like to have a word with you when you are feeling recovered enough for visitors."
He nods and waits for her to say something more. When she doesn't, Draco settles his gaze on his arm as Madam Pomfrey unravels the bandages, waiting for a proper view of the damage. Instead, he's treated to nothing more than the sight of white gauze beneath the strips, soaked through red and a sickening shade of yellow in places where the wounds had seeped through the material. He feels bile rising in his throat at the sight of it and turns his head in the opposite direction, squeezing his eyes tightly closed.
Draco is aware that Madam Pomfrey is removing the gauze. He can hear it peeling away from his skin. But he can't feel any of it, and for a moment, he breathes easier and sends up a silent thanks to Merlin and whatever apothecary supplied the Infirmary with numbing potions. After several long minutes of uncomfortable silence, he cracks his eyes open again and glances over to see Madam Pomfrey beginning to wrap his arm up in fresh strips of cloth. With a soft sigh of relief, Draco opens his eyes fully, only to frown as he watches the mediwitch begin manipulating his fingers for him to wind the cloth around his hand to immobilise it again.
"How bad is it?" he asks. She pauses, and Draco's gaze flickers away from his hand to Madam Pomfrey's face as the silence stretches on for longer than he feels it should. "Madam Pomfrey." He watches her expression grow more pinched.
When she speaks again, her voice is less harsh, and there is a note of reluctance in her tone. "Mr Malfoy..."
"How bad?" Draco demands, and he hears the panic in his voice. Rather than answer him, Madam Pomfrey settles Draco's arm back down on the bed, and Draco tries to reach for it before he finds his wrist caught in a firm grasp. He raises his gaze to see her looking down at him with what Draco is certain is pity in her eyes, and he quickly snatches his free hand back out of her grip. "It's just infected, isn't it? Too many cuts, bled myself unconscious in the loo... the place is obviously crawling with filth, of course it got a bit septic."
"I'm afraid it is much worse than that, Mr Malfoy."
Madam Pomfrey's voice is quiet enough that Draco is convinced for a brief moment that he imagined the words – that his panicked mind is playing tricks on his ears. But when he glances up again and sees the mix of pity and sympathy in her expression, he bites down hard on his lower lip and drops his head back against the pillow beneath him. It takes several deep breathes for Draco to steady himself enough to speak again, and when he does, it is without looking at the mediwitch any longer, staring off instead at the far wall of the hospital wing.
"How bad?" he repeats. This time, his tone is defeated, and the pause before the answer comes is a little easier to bear when it buys him a few more moments of ignorance and hope.
"The damage was extensive, Mr Malfoy. I did everything I could do." She pauses, as though waiting for Draco to speak again, and when he doesn't, he hears her give a quiet sigh. "You will not have use of your left hand ever again. The wounds were too deep. Severed tendons and damaged nerves... Potions are only capable of so much, in these cases, and even the head Healer from St Mungo's was not able to do any more for you than I already had. At the very best, you might regain some feeling in the arm, but that is the most that can be hoped for."
Staring off in silence while he allows the words to slowly sink in, Draco wonders if somehow the wall of white stones across the room might somehow creep closer and swallow him whole.
"I understand." Draco's voice is hollow, even to his own ears. "Thank you for informing me. And for your efforts." He hears her start to say his name again and Draco quickly interrupts in the same empty tone, "I think I'd like to be alone for a little while, if you don't mind."
Silence answers him, but even without looking Draco knows that she's still there, standing at his bedside and watching him with that same look of pity.
He grinds his teeth briefly, as much out of annoyance as a need to do something to ground himself, and clenches his good hand in the sheet. "Please."
"As you wish."
Draco waits until he hears Madam Pomfrey close the door of her office before he moves, rolling carefully onto his left side. He grits his teeth against the pain in his shoulder and stays in that position as he moves his right hand to brush against the strips of white wound around his forearm. His fingers trail over the fabric, and after a moment, he presses against the fabric, hoping to feel something as he rubs his hand over the bandages. There's the sensation of his palm scraping over the slightly rough fabric that holds the gauze beneath in place, but nothing more – no feeling in the injured arm – and Draco lets out a frustrated sound.
He tries to curl his left hand. To flex his fingers. But there isn't so much as a twitch of his thumb, and with every second that ticks by while Draco glares at his immobile hand, panic begins building in his mind. His breathing starts to quicken, and his right hand flexes and instinctively reaches for his pockets only to find them empty of even his wand. With a muttered curse, he sets his jaw and rolls onto his back again to glare up at the ceiling until a shimmer of movement to his right catches his eye.
"Potter." Draco watches Potter fold his Cloak over his arm and settle in the empty bedside chair before he pulls his gaze away from him in favour of the ceiling once again. "What do you want?"
In his periphery, he watches Potter shrug. "Thought I'd come see how you were doing, considering the last time I saw you, you were bleeding yourself to death."
Draco's eyes widen at the answer and he snaps his head to the side to stare at Potter. When he speaks, his voice is quiet and tight, and his good hand clenches into a fist in the sheets. "You found me?" Potter nods, and Draco lets out a snort of bitter laughter. "Of course you did. It would be far too much to ask that it be one of the Professors, or at least a fellow Slytherin with a modicum of discretion."
"For Merlin's sake, Malfoy, are you ever not a bloody prat?" Potter snapped. "Considering the state you were in when I found you, you'd probably have died if you were in there any longer."
"Well, do forgive me if I'm not tipping over myself to thank the great Saint-fucking-Potter for playing the saviour."
Potter's expression goes sour, and he stands, stuffing his hand into a pocket of his denims. "I'm not going to do this anymore, Malfoy," he says as he draws a familiar wand out of his pocket. Draco's eyes rivet on the length of Hawthorn as Potter looks at it for a moment and then tosses it onto the bed. The gesture pulls a soft sigh of relief from Draco as his good hand curls around the handle of his wand. "I found it on the floor after they Levitated you out. Just thought you'd want it back."
"How thoughtful of you," Draco says. His tone is still laced with acid, but there's a distinct note of gratefulness behind it, and he nearly winces at the sound of it. Potter doesn't seem to notice, however, as Draco catches sight of him shaking his head with a derisive snort of laughter.
"Yeah..." He pauses and then heaves a quiet sigh, reaching up to run his fingers through his hair. "Look, I know we don't have a history of being friends or anything, but you were in rough shape when I found you. I just... I wanted to give you back your wand and see if you're alright."
"Well, you've done the first," Draco snaps irritably, gesturing with his wand for emphasis. "And as you can see, I'm well enough to be awake and hold a conversation, so if that is all, Potter?"
Again, Draco watches as Potter's lips pull into a thin line, and the shadow that comes over his face in that moment is bittersweet. He has no desire to talk to anyone right now, but for all that Potter has come and invaded his solitude, for just a moment it feels as though there's someone who might try to understand.
Suddenly, Potter turns his back to the bed and pauses before he steps away, his voice a low murmur. "I found your knife as well. Didn't think you'd want me to bring it here where they might find it. I'll give it back to you after you're released." With that, he starts to walk away, and Draco only stares at his back for several moments until Potter's hand is on the door.
"Potter." He pauses, swallowing the lump that rises up in his throat as he watches Potter turn to look over his shoulder at him with the same pinched expression still in place, and Draco hesitates. "Throw it away," he says at length, just when it looks as though Potter might turn away and leave before he's spoken. Unable to meet his eyes any longer, Draco rolls himself back onto his left side to put his back to Potter and the door, but makes certain that his voice will carry enough for Potter to hear him as he finishes, "I won't need it any more."
It's a week before Draco is released from the infirmary. Potter doesn't make an attempt to return, during all that time, and he's almost thankful for the fact, except that by the end of it, Draco was all but starved for human interaction.
Madam Pomfrey, for the most part, had ignored him, except for when she had to tend to his arm. She avoided meeting his eyes while near his bed, but more than once, Draco had caught her shooting sympathetic and even pitying looks in his direction. And the Headmistress' single visit to his bedside had been mercifully brief, although it had been filled with questions he had no desire to answer. For the most part, Draco had simply lain there and listened to what he was certain she imagined were profound words of comfort and understanding. There had been a lecture as well, cut short only by Draco's assurance that it would not happen again.
The fact that a few words, delivered in a deadpan while not even meeting her eyes, had been enough to silence the Headmistress had been a small relief for Draco. She had studiously avoided the subject of the permanent damage to his hand, another fact for which he had been grateful. It wasn't until the day he was to be released that Madam Pomfrey broaches the subject again.
Over the course of the week, as he'd been slowly taken off the numbing potions, Draco's arm has recovered enough for him to move it on his own. The feeling has returned to at least the upper portion of it, although it fades lower, around the Mark, before going completely numb at his wrist. His hand, however, remains completely lost to him, dangling limply from the wrist when he lifts his arm up at Madam Pomfrey's request. The muscles in Draco's jaw twitch at the sight, and it's all he can do to keep from letting out a growl of frustration at the sight of his useless hand. Madam Pomfrey, though, only nods.
She produces a brace, then, and begins manipulating his hand in order to fix it in place. The brace fits down over his wrist and to the lower part of his forearm to keep his wrist and hand level, and when Madam Pomfrey tells him to lower his arm again, Draco feels a small sense of relief that his hand almost looks normal now that it's stable.
"You should keep the brace on as much as possible, and especially overnight, although a short break from it once or twice a day shouldn't do you any harm." Draco nods, and for a moment, it appears as though Madam Pomfrey will say something more, before she ultimately shakes her head slightly and steps back from his bedside. "You are free to return to your dormitory now, then, Mr Malfoy. I have already notified your professors that you will not return to your classes until tomorrow, to allow you the day to settle back in and... adjust. If you do not have any questions...?"
Draco only shakes his head, absently beginning to rub at the brace on his left hand.
"Then you may leave when you are ready." Madam Pomfrey gives a stiff nod of dismissal before she walks away from him, leaving Draco still rubbing at his arm, his hand moving higher to trace his fingers over what used to be his Mark. Only a few lines and smudges of black are visible through all of the scarring, the most recent of the marks still pink and a little raw to the touch despite all of the salves that had been applied.
He stays there in his hospital bed for well over twenty minutes before he's ready to move. It takes Draco only a moment to get himself out of the bed, but another few to steady himself once his feet were on the floor, unsteady after spending the past week unable to move around. Once he is certain his feet will support him, he picks up his school robes from where they'd been laid at the foot of the bed, and shrugs them on, tucking his wand into a pocket as he makes his way out of the infirmary. It's a relief to find the corridor outside empty of other students, and Draco takes the opportunity to straighten his spine as he strides towards the dungeons. When he hears the chatter of voices, he reaches for his left sleeve without thinking and tugs it down to cover as much of his hand and the brace as possible.
The nearer he gets to the intersection of the corridors where he hears the voices coming from, though, the more uncertain Draco becomes, and at the last moment, he ducks into an alcove and presses his back flat against the stones. The sound of voices crescendos for several long seconds, and then it slowly begins to fade, and Draco belatedly realizes that it's about time for lunch down in the Great Hall. Frowning to himself, he considers falling in at the back of the group and making his way downstairs, but before his feet can carry him back out into the corridor, he stops and shakes his head.
Draco waits instead until he can't hear the voices any more and then strides as quickly as he's able down towards the dungeons, and lets out a sigh of relief when the doorway opens for him and he steps into an empty common room.
Draco nearly stops despite himself, his feet stalling on the stones for one brief moment before he quickly continues on his way. He goes out of his way to weave through a large cluster of chattering Ravenclaws and Hufflepuffs to put an obstacle between himself and Potter, and then makes a sudden turn down a corridor, intent on circling around in hopes Potter won't notice he turned off, and will pass on by in search of him.
He only makes it a few steps down the hall, though, before he stops as Potter says his name again from not far behind him. Sighing, Draco closes his eyes for a moment to take a breath, and then turns his face just slightly to one side, not quite enough to look behind him, but enough to acknowledge Potter's presence there.
"What do you want, Potter?"
"What's wrong with your arm?"
Draco bites back a curse and straightens his spine, turning his face forward again. "Nothing," he answers in a cool tone. He waves his right arm in a dismissive gesture, and takes one determined step forward and then another. "Thank you for the concern, but I assure you, Potter, myself, and my arm, are perfectly well." He doesn't wait for Potter to reply, and instead continues walking down the corridor, changing his course from circling around towards the Great Hall, and turns towards the dungeons instead.
It had been a surprise, after his release from the infirmary, to have his house mates asking after his health when they had returned from dinner. He had been informed that the story given to the few Slytherins close enough to be considered his friends had been that he had caught a highly contagious strain of the flu, and those few had spread the word throughout the dorm. The surprise had come when there were no knowing looks in any of his house mates' eyes to indicate they knew, or had heard, even the slightest whisper of the truth. When the same held true during his first reappearance in classes, when even Weasley's expression in a brief moment when they bumped shoulders in the corridor was nothing out of the ordinary, Draco had accepted that Potter had not spread the truth of his hospitalisation around Hogwarts.
Secure in that knowledge, Draco had allowed himself to relax somewhat, then. But the brief dropping of his guard had nearly given it all away.
Still adjusting to his useless left hand, he had absently reached for an ingredient on his lab table during the Potions lesson. With enough muscle control to lift his damaged arm, Draco had not realized until he heard glass shatter against the stones what he had done. His braced hand drooped slightly in place still where the now-broken phial should have been, knocked to the floor by his attempt to reach for it.
He had recovered quickly, and had assumed that no one had seen, when his few house mates there had only glared for the loss of points for his clumsy behaviour, and his other classmates had simply returned to their work.
Draco is jolted out of his thoughts now by a hand settling on his right shoulder, and before he's able to react and shrug it off, he finds himself being spun sharply around. Potter's hand drops from his shoulder, and Draco gathers his wits enough to jerk back from him, but not before Potter gets hold of the left sleeve of his robes and pushes it up to bare his forearm. Quickly smoothing the fabric back down to cover his skin, Draco contemplates fleeing for a moment too long, and Potter grabs hold of his arm again before he's able to move.
His touch is surprisingly gentle, and yet firm, as he grips Draco with one hand near the bend of his elbow, and the other down by the brace on his wrist. Despite himself, Draco doesn't immediately try to throw him off, this time, standing rigid in place and watching Potter push his sleeve back up to his elbow.
"This is why you were being a prat that day in the infirmary, isn't it?" Potter asks, with his gaze focussed on Draco's scarred-up forearm. When Draco doesn't react, even to pull his arm free again, Potter seems to take it as an invitation to touch him further, running his fingers over the marks on Draco's flesh.
A small shudder ripples through Draco as Potter's fingertips trace the lines of his scars, and then he begins pulling his arm away when Potter's hand moves lower down, towards the brace on his wrist. Potter's hold on him tightens to keep him from getting free.
"Don't," he hisses as Potter touches the brace.
"What's wrong with it?"
Pursing his lips, Draco answers tightly, "Nothing."
"You realize I have the table right behind you in Potions, don't you?" Potter gives him a pointed look, and repeats, "What's wrong with it?"
"That's none of your business, Potter," Draco snaps, and with a hard jerk, pulls his hand out of Potter's grasp yet again. He turns sharply on his heel to walk away, tossing over his shoulder, "Now, if you'll excuse me-"
"You can't use your hand anymore, can you?"
The words stop him cold in his tracks, and Potter's only reaction to the halt in Draco's steps is a hum. Setting his jaw, Draco straightens himself up and stalks off along the corridor without another word, ignoring Potter calling his name once as he rounds a corner and makes his way down a moving staircase as quickly as his feet will carry him. Potter does not follow him this time, much to his relief, and Draco does not stop or slow until the common room door has shut firmly behind him.
Moving to one of the sofas positioned in front of the fire, he tosses himself down onto the cushions and drapes his right arm across his eyes, only to start and bolt upright when his hand brushes against fabric where there ought to be none.
"Potter!" he snaps as he grabs at the air where he'd felt the touch, grasping a handful of fabric and dragging the cloak down to reveal Potter sitting on the sofa's arm. "You really have no concept of personal space, do you?"
Shifting over to put space between himself and Potter, Draco folds his arms over his chest and narrows his eyes at him. "In case it has somehow escaped your notice, I do not wish to speak to you, and this is not your common room. So would you bloody well sod off and leave me in peace?"
Throughout his outburst, Potter only watches him in silence, and continues to stare at Draco, unspeaking, once he's finished. "What?" Draco finally snaps, and Potter shrugs.
"Just making sure you're finished. Are you?" Draco's only answer is to glare, and Potter continues as though he'd agreed. "I'm not chasing after you trying to humiliate you or anything, you know. But you were in pretty rough shape when I found you that day, and I know you hate me, but still, the way you acted back in the hospital wing when I came to see you seemed a bit... off." He pauses, and then shrugs again, finally breaking his gaze away from Draco's, and Potter reaches up to thread his fingers through his hair. "I just wanted to see if you're all right, is all. Which obviously you're not, so I guess... is there anything I can do? To help, I mean?"
Draco purses his lips into a pale, thin line. A myriad of responses run through his mind in an instant, and he bites back all of them while he considers Potter, who not only had saved his life, but also what little remained of his social standing at Hogwarts by keeping his silence in the past week. Finally, he lets his arms drop from his chest and rest in his lap.
"No," he answered with a small shake of his head. "Not at the moment, at least. Perhaps I could let you know if that changes?"
It's only a matter of days before Draco finds himself actively seeking Potter out as a source of comfort. He'd sent an owl home a few days after his release from the infirmary, with no response from either of his parents, and against his better judgement, he had sent a second the morning after his conversation with Potter. When the familiar sight of his mother's owl in the mix of those overhead during breakfast greets him the following morning, Draco's mood lifts significantly, only for the brief feeling of relief to come crashing down around him when he reads his mother's letter.
Sitting at the Slytherin table, he crumples the piece of parchment in his fist and glances across the Great Hall towards Potter's seat at the Gryffindor table. Weasley and Granger are paying more attention to each other than to Potter, and after a moment of Draco staring at him, Potter lifts his gaze and their eyes meet. Within a moment, Potter turns to his friends and makes some sort of excuse before leaving the table, glancing one last time at Draco as he shoulders the strap of his bag, and tips his head subtly towards the hall.
Draco waits for a few minutes to pass before he follows, standing and striding quickly out of the Great Hall. Only a few steps into the hall, Potter steps out of a shadowed alcove and leads the way in silence towards the library, and Draco follows without complaint. As they sit at a secluded table tucked away between the History of Magic stacks, Draco drops his own bag onto the floor and slumps into a chair without a word.
For a long moment, Potter allows him his silence, busying himself unloading most of the contents of his bag onto the table and arranging them as though to do work; quill and parchment and ink all grouped together, while he pulls a text from one of the nearby shelves and splays it open to one side. When it's all finished, he stops and looks at Draco, sitting with his head down on the table, forehead pressed against the cool wood and watching Potter in his periphery.
"What's the matter?" Potter asks, and at first, Draco doesn't have any idea how to answer, until he realises that the owl from his mother is still crumpled in his fist. Without lifting his head, he closes his eyes and reaches over to drop the parchment in front of Potter. Several moments pass before Potter hums, neatly folding the parchment and passing it back towards Draco. "So that's it, then?"
"That's it?" Draco repeats sharply. An edge of hysteria creeps into his tone as he lifts his head up and continues, "Yes, Potter, that's it, not a big deal at all that my father is too ashamed of me to answer my owls. He and my mother believe I tried to off myself in the bloody bathroom, and I'll likely be disowned any day, now. That is nothing to worry about!"
"He isn't going to disown you." The surety in Potter's tone gives Draco pause, and he turns to look at him with his brow furrowed. "Think about it," Potter continues as he meets Draco's eyes. "No one outside of the two of them, us, and the staff know why you were in the hospital wing-"
"No one but me knows why I was there," Draco snaps, only for Potter to continue over him.
"-and you're his only son. If you father were to disown you, people would expect some sort of explanation. Your family is still influential enough for something like that to make the Prophet, and even without that, I imagine there would still be questions from those who know your family. If he's so ashamed of what happened, do you honestly think he's going to willingly reveal that to the public?" Potter shakes his head. "More likely, he'll fume for a time, and that will be the extent of it. I sincerely doubt that he would ever disown his only son over something he could very easily keep swept under the rug."
Draco only stares at Potter for a moment, surprised by his insight, before he nods slowly. "I suppose you may be correct... Still, I doubt that my perceived display of 'weakness' will be left to slide completely."
"Then perhaps you should explain what happened to them, rather than leave your father to continue making his own assumptions," Potter suggests. Leaning back in his chair, he gives Draco a pointed look. "And while you're at it, I'd be curious to know just what that was all about. It didn't look much like you were trying to do that to yourself, to me."
"Of course I wasn't," Draco says, a harsh edge creeping into his tone again. He pauses, taking a breath and then shakes his head. "It's difficult to explain..."
The response is so simple it surprises Draco, and he eyes Potter for a moment before he nods.
"I started cutting up the Mark after the war. I had no choice in taking it, and there's no way to remove it, even with him gone. After everything that happened, and everything that Mark still symbolises, even though I've been lucky enough to escape any sort of punishment for what I was made to do, I couldn't stand to see it on my arm at all. I thought that if I was going to be forced to wear a scar like that, it would be on my own terms."
"So you were trying to cut it out?" Potter asked, and Draco quickly shook his head.
"I was trying to scar over it, to make it unrecognisable. And for the most part, I'd been succeeding. Whenever the memories would resurface – or after returning here for the term, whenever someone would remind me of the war, either by seeing them or by hearing comments made – I would slip away and make a few more scars. It was a release, and offered me a strange sense of comfort, seeing the Mark slowly disappear beneath the scars. I know that I can't take it away, but I at least now the mark I show is a bit more of my own making."
Draco falls silent for a moment and lowers his gaze to his arm, tugging his sleeve back to look at the still-fresh scars on his flesh. "I'm not sure what it was about that day, but the memories wouldn't stop creeping in, and I felt jittery and frantic. I was only planning to make a few new scars until it let up, and I'm not sure, really, what happened, but it got out of hand. I know how hard to press on the knife to cut just deep enough, but I must have pressed harder without realizing it, and it took me a bit too long to notice it. I'd lost too much blood to move myself, and I was almost certain I was going to die in there, for a moment. When I heard the door open, I did the only thing I could think of and kicked the knife, hoping whoever it was would think to look for what made the noise and find me."
There's a long pause when he's finished, during which Draco continues to stare at his arm, tracing the lines of the freshest scars with the tips of his fingers. Finally, the silence breaks as Potter sighs and leans back in his chair.
"You got lucky, you know," Potter says, his tone light and casual, as though Draco had only narrowly escaped crashing his broom on the pitch, and despite himself, Draco lets out a huff of a chuckle and smiles.
"Understatement of the year, Potter."
"You are aware that I'm not an invalid, aren't you?" Draco asks when he and Potter are finally preparing to leave the library and Potter reaches to pick up Draco's bag as well as his own. They had passed a fair few hours at their secluded table, keeping up a steady string of conversation over their work. Lunch time had passed them by without either moving from the table, until Potter's stomach had let out a rumble of disapproval as dinner approached, urging both of them up to make their way down to the Great Hall.
Chuckling softly, Potter still lifts the bag and hoists it onto his shoulder, flashing a smile at Draco. "Of course you're not. But maybe I just feel like doing something nice for you."
Draco arches a suspicious eyebrow at that, watching Potter continue to smile before the expression begins to falter under his gaze and a faint tint of pink rises up in Potter's cheeks.
"You do realize that if we walk downstairs together, with you carrying my bag, that people will talk, correct? At the very least, the entirety of Slytherin will be in an uproar of suspicion and speculation, and I hardly think Gryffindor would be much better." Potter only looks at him blankly for a moment and Draco sighs, holding out his right hand for his bag. "They'll think we're together, Potter; now give me my bag."
This time, Potter makes a noise of understanding in his throat and then his grin returns and he brushes Draco's hand aside. "I could really care less what people think, Malfoy. I feel like giving you a hand with your things, there's no crime in that. Now," he continues, pausing in his stride towards the door to look at Draco over his shoulder, "are you coming along, or aren't you? Because I'm bloody starving."
He doesn't wait for Draco to answer, instead turning and continuing out of the library and leaving Draco standing there to stare after him for a long moment. Only hours earlier, Draco had been in the depths of despair over the owl from his mother, only to now be feeling more relaxed and, more importantly, normal, than he had since before he'd ever taken the Mark. There had been no anxious concern over his useless hand during the hours spent sitting with Potter, and he had even left his sleeve pulled back with the brace exposed while he'd worked, a refreshing change after spending the past many days hiding his hand in one way or another at all times.
Draco blinks slowly as the library door opens for Potter to step out, and then he lets out a short laugh as he shakes himself. "Always the bloody saviour, aren't you, Potter?" he murmurs to himself, his tone full of humour, and ahead of him, Potter pauses with the door still in hand to look back.
"Did you say something?"
Smirking, Draco smooths his sleeve down as he catches up to Potter, and then passes him, waving with his good hand for Potter to come along. "Nothing at all. Now get a move on, would you? If you insist on carrying my things, you should at least keep up with me."