Little Lion

Chapter 1

AN I don't own HP or any of the characters.

Harry and Draco were both parselmouths but they were the only ones (that they knew of) so they tended to speak in parseltongue whenever they were together. The hisses and snarls sounded angry and most of the school could tell they were at each other's throats. They hissed at each other across the great hall or classroom, just little angry threats.

Except they weren't threats. Or angry.

Hermione wasn't a parselmouth but she was dedicated and interested so she found every book she could find on the language and began to learn it just like any other language. It was very, very difficult, but she knew basic words. She could recognize the phrase good morning or good afternoon and was shocked to hear those pleasant greetings between the Gryffindor and the Slytherin. Draco sneered at them but she swore she heard the word love when he retorted. Harry snarled back, so surely she must have been wrong, but the two broke apart and Draco left with a huff so she shook it off. She vowed to record the conversation next time with her wand. For research, she told herself, and to improve in the language-not at all so she could spy on Harry.

So she recorded their next spat and rushed off to the library to replay it over and over again so she could decode and decipher every word and every syllable. She could only get bits and pieces at first but she wrote out every possibility, every syllable break combination and tone change she could possibly imagine occuring. And, after over four hours, she came up with something. It didn't make a lot of sense and it was still only a part of the conversation-just the ending of a sentence, one Draco had said because his parseltongue had more of an English influence than Harry's.

Little lion.

Instinct told her it was a taunt. She wanted to keep going, to keep investigating and decoding every word she possibly could so she might understand why Draco had said little lion, undoubtedly referring to Harry. It was an insult, right? It had to be.

But, it was dark now and the lanterns were slowly extinguishing themselves in the library so she packed up her things and headed towards Gryffindor tower.

Hermione was very careful to never let Harry or Draco catch on to the fact that she was listening or learning. She couldn't speak parseltongue-not without forcing it and repeating the hisses like a human doing an impression of a snake-but she was getting better at deciphering it. Recording it and playing it back to herself in the library after classes helped immensely and she got used to the slight differences in the way the two spoke. Not just their voices, but their… was it still considered an accent if it was a snake language? Regardless, Harry's was fluid and smooth and so fast that she often had to perform extra charms to slow it down just so she could listen to it-he hadn't even known he was a parselmouth, it was natural. So it made sense that his speech in the language was fast and easy, like he'd never not spoken it.

Draco, however, had been taught parseltongue. Hermione was still kind of unclear on the details surrounding it but she knew there were very few speakers in the entire wizarding world. There were no speakers in the Malfoys-other than Draco-and as far as she knew there were none among the death eaters. Snape didn't speak it, which left Harry or… Voldemort. Hermione tried not to think about that for very long, usually.

Draco had a habit of calling Harry little lion, Hermione quickly realized, and because his speech was slightly easier to understand she tended to focus on his words rather than Harry's. It was always little lion, never Potter or scarhead. They spoke briefly and quickly, usually, but because parseltongue as a language had a habit of dropping out all but the most important information, the two were able to cram a lot of information into very few syllables.

Harry: Something something better something?

Hermione was incredibly frustrated by how quickly and fluidly Harry tended to speak. He slurred word endings with word beginnings and mashed entire phrases together so that it became nearly impossible to pick apart. At best, she could sometimes get very slow and very basic words from his parts of the conversation.

Draco: Better something night. Something father something something letter.

Hermione sighed. Even with Draco's slightly less ambiguous speech, it was still like listening to someone just scream. She got the same amount of information, essentially. But, no, she reminded herself, because screaming would at least sound human and have some kind of intonation she could decipher. The hisses, however, might as well have been wind in her ears.

It took her over a month to decipher anything Harry said-even just the smallest word, aside from the hello or good morning that she'd first learned-but when she did she had to stop. Little dragon. That couldn't be right, could it? Little lion was an insult, a derogatory play on the strength of the Gryffindor mascot. But little dragon? It could have been the same thing… but Hermione's intuition screamed that that wasn't right. Draco's name was latin for dragon, it could have been an insult. But it felt more… intimate. Like a petname almost.

That couldn't be right. Harry called the Slytherin prince Malfoy, and Draco called him Potter or scarhead or some variation thereof. But then again… Hermione couldn't remember the last time she'd heard either of them use last names. They didn't even speak in English, now, and hadn't since their third year. She and Ron used Malfoy, and the Slytherin gang said Potter, but it had been over three years since either parselmouth had actually used either. Not even in private conversations had Harry called the blond Malfoy since their first years at Hogwarts. It was always the Slytherin prince, or the snake, or his full name. Never just Malfoy.

The longer she studied the language, the more time and energy went into it in her unconscious moments. Both in sleep and in daydream, she thought parseltongue. It didn't make sense how the little names-and Hermione refused to call them petnames, at least not until she was sure-seemed to fit with their dynamic. Even when the two twisted their faces into ugly, angry sneers, it fit. Because the hissing sounded angry-so they sounded angry-but the words never were. Hermione was still trying to wrap her brain around it and not being able to understand over half the words they said didn't help but… still. It was enough for her gut to know.

They weren't angry, that much was clear, and though the hisses sounded furious the words were often nothing more than conversational. She caught phrases like how are you and little snippets like sleep well. As the year progressed, she stopped trying to read their body language as much-which was the mistake the rest of the school made-and listened to the words themselves. She was getting better at deciphering, after the fact of course. The recordings weren't as good as the real thing but she could slow it down and replay it as many times as she needed to be able to match it to a word so it was much more effective.

No one batted an eye when Hermione did homework. She'd learned that very quickly and, between all her classes, Ron and Harry didn't bother keeping track of what work she was doing when. If they saw a book or a parchment, that was enough to lose their interest. As annoying as it was, it was also incredibly convenient. She learned to charm her parchment to show arithmancy notes and was able to study and take notes on parseltongue in the middle of the Gryffindor common room. As long as she didn't make a sound, Harry would never know.

Harry enjoyed speaking parseltongue. He'd been scared of it at first because of the way everyone had reacted but, when Draco came back for their second year and hissed at him, Harry was delighted. It became a secret, sort of, and he and Draco spoke solely in it. At first it had been insults-the same ones Draco said in English, usually-but when none of the goons or bystanders understood Draco quickly stopped. If he wanted to insult him, he would do it in English. But, slowly, that stopped too. Until, one day, he'd been sitting in History of Magic and faint little hissing sound had tickled his ear.

Potter, can you hear me?

Harry furrowed his brow and tried to concentrate on the lesson. He didn't want to fall for one of Malfoy's pranks and he wasn't in the mood to deal with any ridicule, but the hissing got louder. Soon, the entire class was looking for the source. He answered just to get Malfoy to shut up.

Quiet! I heard you the first time what do you want?

And then Draco had propositioned him. Not for sex, thank god, but for a little truce-a deal, he called it. They could argue in parseltongue. None of the rest of the school would know what they were saying so, if they acted angry, the school would think they were fighting. But they wouldn't be. When Harry had finally asked why-because honestly he thought Draco enjoyed the fighting-Draco had sighed.

Because my father would kill me if he thought we were on speaking terms, but I'm tired of it.

He hadn't asked to be Harry's friend. Hadn't offered a truce out of guilt or out of some shared interest. Just exhaustion. So Harry had agreed, and thus began the plan. They made sure to have a public disagreement in parseltongue at least once a week and soon news spread that the threats and insults were even worse in parseltongue. Some swore they could understand pieces and heard death threats. Little did they know.

It had taken a long time for Harry to do anything other than just put on a show. He'd seen Draco sitting at the Slytherin table, staring off into the distance as if he was immune to the friends and laughter and food around him. But Harry knew that look well enough and he hissed across the great hall, willing it to float above the noise.

Focus on the here and now.

Draco had startled and frantically scanned the room, meeting Harry's eyes in confusion. But then he'd understood, and he nodded in thanks. It was gradual, like grains of sand falling through an hourglass, but slowly Harry learned more and more about Draco just by observing. He'd watched the blond before, of course, but there was something about parseltongue… About being able to communicate, even across a crowded great hall, and know for certain that only they would understand the words or hear them, that gave Harry confidence. He pushed Draco, when normally he would have backed off.

They started sending charmed notes to one another. It was like twenty questions because Harry had been bored one night and charmed a paper airplane to find Malfoy and deliver a message in parseltongue. He hadn't really been expecting anything in response. Realistically, he knew the note would never make it into the Slytherin common room let alone into Draco Malfoy's hands, but nearly ten minutes later a little origami crane landed gracefully on his dresser. His roommates were asleep, so he pulled it into the curtains of his bed and cast a silencing charm. Gently, he tapped it with his wand.

What is twenty questions?

Harry rolled his eyes but had to laugh as the little origami crane stilled back into normal paper. Draco didn't know muggle games, he reminded himself. He set the crane on his pillow and decided to send Draco something else this time-something that would draw less attention if it was seen floating down the empty halls. But what? With one hand, he pulled a loose thread from one of Dudley's old shirts he'd had to bring from home, stashing under his bed in favor of his robes the second he arrived. The little ugly brown thread pulsed in his hand as he charmed it and then send it flying. It returned much faster this time, and Harry assumed Draco was getting the hang of it because there was another origami crane floating towards him, with the thread tied around its neck like a collar. It landed, and Harry tapped it.

Sounds boring. Who starts?

Again, Harry had to chuckle because leave it to Draco to insult and agree to the same game in the same message. But he took the little crane and gently removed the string. Again, it pulsed in his palm as he whispered to it.

For god's sake Draco send something less conspicuous, will you? If Flich sees little origami birds flying through the halls he'll know something's up. I'll start. What's your favorite color?

Harry released the string again, holding one of the scarlet curtains aside so it could leave. He waited, and considered his question. Draco would say green, he could already guess, which was why he'd asked that in the first place-as if reassuring himself that it really was Draco. Silver, maybe, because of the hair and the monetary value as opposed to green. But definitely one of the two. When the item appeared, sent from Draco, Harry full on belly laughed.

It was an origami rose, complete with stem and thorns. He tapped it, already amused.

I sent a flower this time because Flich won't want to read some sappy love note. My favorite color is blue, yours?

That managed to surprise Harry more than the flower had. The rose was clever, he had to admit, and definitely something he could imagine Malfoy doing to get around following Harry's instructions, but the blue? Harry had never seen him wear anything blue, not even socks. Nothing he owned even pointed to the fact that there were colors besides green and silver, with the occasional black. Interesting.

Yellow. Your turn to ask a question, Malfoy.

When the string returned, it was just a string and Harry couldn't decide if he was pleased or disappointed. On one hand, he'd won the battle and gotten Malfoy to be less conspicuous. On the other, though, he had been hoping Malfoy would send something amusing next. Like the rose, but better. Regardless, he shook it off and tapped the string with his wand.

Why do you call me that?

That was his question? Harry, confused, quickly sent back a clarification: What, Malfoy? And the string returned with a simple yes.

Because it's your name.

But even as he sent the string off, Harry knew that wasn't what Draco had meant. He meant why his last name. Why not Draco, why not some other taunting nickname that made fun of him the way scarhead did? And Harry honestly didn't know the answer to that. He wasn't sure why Draco even cared. When he got no response after several minutes, he pulled out another thread and charmed it.

Why wouldn't you want to be called Malfoy?

That string, thankfully, came back after a minute or two and Harry hesitated. Some part of him said it would just be Draco insulting him, pushing him away to counteract whatever kind of frenemy thing was going on. But he tapped it.

Because Malfoy is my father.

Harry was confused. Didn't Draco idolize his father? Didn't he worship the ground Lucius walked on and throw his family name around like money in poker? Before he could respond, though, Draco sent back the original string.

If we're going to keep doing this, stop calling me that name. It's Draco.

Fair enough, Harry thought, and told Draco so, asking for his question. When Draco responded: What do you mean? That was my question. Harry had to laugh again because Draco truly did not understand the game. He cringed at the idea of trying to teach purebloods games like spin the bottle or truth or dare and decided against that battle for now.

You have to ask a real question, one that applies to both of us. Like I asked you your favorite color, and then I said mine. That kind of thing.

So, finally, Harry got back the reply he was looking for. A question.

If you could have anything in the world, what would it be? Not material, necessarily.

Harry didn't even have to think. He sent back his reply instantaneously: My parents, alive, what about you? As he waited, he looked over the tiny little origami shapes now littering his bed. He swept them into his dresser drawer, not sure what else to do other than destroy them-which he was against, for some reason. The thread appeared again.

Peace.

Slowly, that began the process Harry now liked to call unraveling Draco Malfoy. Draco asked real questions, deep questions, and Harry couldn't tell usually if it was because he wanted to know Harry's answer or if he wanted to share his own. The longer they talked, the more Harry realized how eager Draco seemed to have someone who listened. He wondered about the other Slytherins, but didn't ask.

They talked like that at night, almost every night, for their entire second year. It wasn't a big deal for them to miss a night here or there, especially if there was a Quidditch match coming up or something, but it became less and less frequent. They made sure to talk, even if it was just a little piece of lint charmed to say good night. Harry wasn't sure why he found it so comforting, but he did. And he told Draco so, surprisingly, which didn't scare the blond but actually made him do it more. Soon, Harry didn't have to be the one to initiate all their conversations. He would get back from classes to find some odd trinket on his pillow-usually a piece of fluff, or useless a bit of a broken quill-and it was exciting. Thrilling, like they shared a secret.

That all changed over the summer, though, because Draco came back to their third year different. Harry wasn't sure what the hell had happened but he sent Draco note after note every night for over a week before the Slytherin snapped. When Harry got his candy wrapper back, it nearly screamed at him. Screamed that nothing had happened, that everything was normal, that he was fine, that Harry should just butt out of it. And he said he was fine so many times… Harry knew it wasn't true.

He wasn't sure what made him do it, really, because it was as stupid as stupid got but he pulled out the invisibility cloak. He charmed the wrapper but slowed it, so he could follow. Silently, it led him to the Slytherin common room entrance. It was late, so no one was coming or going, but Harry managed to wait until one of Draco's notes was coming back out to slip inside. It didn't open for his notes, but it opened to let Draco's out.

Inside, he was bathed in silver and green. It was dark and surprisingly lavish but Harry didn't let himself hesitate on it because he had to follow the wrapper. It floated towards a staircase, which he started down. At the bottom, it led him to a bedroom door and, inside the room, it led him to the green bed farthest from the entrance. All the curtains were drawn so, quickly, Harry cast a silencing charm on Draco's bed and slid beneath them. Draco nearly screamed, but Harry had cast the charm so no one woke up.

"What the fuck Harry?!" But just as Harry began to explain himself, he noticed the tears on Draco's cheeks. Why was Draco crying?

"What's wrong?" Draco flinched so violently away from his touch that Harry wanted to cry, but he just let his hand drop back into his lap. Carefully, he pulled his legs to sit cross legged on the mattress and he faced the Slytherin. Draco looked like he couldn't decide if he should be furious or terrified.

"What the hell are you doing here Potter!?" Harry couldn't look away from that face, though. The normally porcelain pale skin was flushed pink and stained with tears. Silver eyes were dull and tired. Draco worried his lower lip between his teeth and Harry could see just from where he sat that there were already patches of bloody flesh where his teeth had worn the lips too thin.

"You weren't okay…" Draco swallowed hard, staring at him like he didn't understand the English. "You weren't okay… I was worried." The parseltongue was what did it. Somehow, the one little thing that they shared managed to bridge the gap and Draco's entire face fell. Harry just watched the Slytherin as he buried his face in his hands and curled in on himself—Harry was too afraid to touch him—but he kept talking.

"Hey, Draco, it's okay it's gonna be okay. What's wrong? What happened to you over the summer?" At that, Draco recoiled. He sat calmly at the head of his bed and folded his hands in his lap, even though he was still crying. Harry didn't like watching him shut down like that. Now wasn't the time, though, so Harry just focused and tried to prepare himself for whatever bombshell Draco was about to drop on him.

"I… nothing happened. Nothing new, at least. I, um… Will you do me a favor?" Harry was nodding before the word was even all the way out of Draco's mouth, eager to somehow help. He couldn't really explain why he was so scared, but he was. Something about seeing the blond so uncharacteristically vulnerable made his gut scream that something had gone very, very wrong. But Draco said nothing had happened?

"Of course, what can I do?" Draco handed him a little jar, giving him a sad look. Wordlessly, the Slytherin turned his back to him and pulled off his pajama shirt. Harry felt his stomach drop.

"Draco…" His back was pale and skinny—too skinny, given how hard he practiced for the Quidditch team and how lithe he usually was—but other than that… There, tacked on to the paleness and his showing ribs, were countless gashes. A whip, if Harry had to guess.

"Draco what the hell happened to you?" Draco didn't say a word. Silently, he pulled his knees to his chest and buried his face in his pajama bottoms, wrapping an arm around his legs until he was as close to a ball as a bony human could get. Harry felt fire on his skin, burning into his lungs. He couldn't breathe. The thought of someone doing this-to a kid no less-made his fists clench. At home, with the Dursleys, he could never be angry. He took whatever they gave him and if he so much as opened his mouth it just got worse. But with Draco… For Draco, he could be angry and it simmered under his skin like explosives just waiting for a spark. The only thing that called him back was a small hiccup from the shaking form.

"I'm so sorry, Draco." The blond shook his head, hiding his face, and just waited. He was waiting for the salve, Harry realized, because it was doubtful he could reach it himself and he sure as hell didn't seem ready to go to Pomfrey. Harry understood that. Quietly, he unscrewed the lid and dipped two fingers into the salve. It was cool to the touch and tingled, like menthol in a cough drop, but Harry quickly began to spread it onto the wounds. Gradually, Draco stopped shaking.

"Draco, please tell me what happened. I understand. More than you think I do. Please just tell me. I won't go to Pomfrey, or Dumbledore, or do anything that might blow back on you I swear to god-to Merlin, even. Please tell me." Harry continued to rub the salve into the pale, damaged skin beneath his hands. It hurt to look at. He had no doubt the salve was contraband-or at least, that Draco wasn't supposed to be using it-but he couldn't bring himself to use it sparingly. He lathered it on, rubbing it into even the deepest wounds until they began to heal.

"You promise?" He wasn't expecting Draco to actually tell him. Harry had never told anyone about the Dursleys and for good reason-he was scared-but Draco spoke all the same. It was weak and shaky, but he'd said it.

"I promise." And then… Draco shattered. Harry didn't know any other way to describe it because that was what happened. One minute, the blond was hunched in on himself and curled tight, like he was coiling and getting ready to strike. The next, he was trembling in Harry's lap.

Draco didn't tell him all of it-far from it, if Harry had to guess-but he said enough. Enough to make Harry's insides churn with hatred and enough to make the dark-haired boy hold him impossibly tight. Every fiber in Harry's being said this was his chance. He couldn't stand up to the Dursleys, couldn't defend himself, but he could protect Draco. Gently, he soothed the Slytherin and ran his hand through those sweaty blond locks as Draco slowly got his breathing back under control. But neither of them moved or broke apart.

"Draco, listen to me." The blond pulled back enough to meet his eyes, terror written into his every feature. "Listen to me right now and don't ever forget what I'm about to say to you, okay? He will not hurt you, not while you're here. We'll figure out summer and breaks, trust me, but while you're here you're with me. And I will not let him hurt you." Draco whined in protest, trying to argue, but Harry was far from done. He shushed the blond, and just soothingly rubbed his arm.

"Draco, I get it. I know you don't believe me but I do get it-I do understand. And I'm not gonna make a promise that I can't keep, that's why we'll talk about breaks later, but I swear to you on my parents' grave that he will not hurt you. Not while I'm here." Draco whimpered, curling into him as he grabbed at Harry's robes, but Harry didn't mind. It was small, childlike. He knew the feeling all too well and he just held the boy closer, rocking them gently from side to side.

"Hush, little dragon, it's okay now. I've got you, I'm here, and you're safe right now, with me. From now on, you come to me. If he sends you a letter, if he threatens you, if he shows up with the entire goddamn dark army-you come to me, okay? I'm gonna protect you." And Harry honestly meant every word he said that night. He lived up to it, too, and though they couldn't meet in person like that very often Harry was constantly there for him.

Harry couldn't protect him during breaks. It would be far too suspicious for Draco to even think of staying at Hogwarts over the holidays, and summer was even worse. But Harry was always there to pick up the pieces the second they were reunited. It killed him that he couldn't do more, but it was enough.

For Draco, it was more than he'd ever dared to hope for and the only thing that got him through those holidays was knowing that he would be back with Harry soon. Even if they couldn't openly be friends, just being near the raven-haired boy had a profound effect. Harry was fiercely protective. So much so, that, sometimes, it scared Draco a little bit because he didn't understand that fire in the Gryffindor's eyes or why it suddenly flared for him, of all people. He didn't imagine that Harry actually cared, but he pretended sometimes. Just for little moments.

The best moments of his life, if he was being honest.

It wasn't until the end of their fourth year that Harry finally caved. Draco hadn't asked him to-wasn't expecting him to-but Harry had showed up in his bedroom and whisked him off to the astronomy tower the night before the feast. His green eyes were tired, and scared.

"What's wrong? Worried about my father?" Harry shook his head, though, so Draco dropped it immediately. He stood in silence beside the Gryffindor and merely waited.

"I mean, yes, I'm worried about you. I'm always worried about you, little dragon, and you know that." But there was more, so Draco didn't speak just yet. He'd learned it was best, sometimes, to just wait Harry out rather than push him. As the silence dragged on, though, Draco thought now might not be one of those times.

"You're scared, though, of something else." Harry didn't deny it, so Draco moved closer and covered the darker hand with his own. "Come on, you can trust me. You know me better than anyone and you, of all people, know how loyal I am. I would never hurt you. Please tell me what's wrong, little lion." Harry stilled. It was first time Draco had ever dared to use a nickname like that in return and, for a split second, Draco thought he might lash out or hit him. But just as quickly, Harry deflated. Green eyes stared out at the night sky as Harry squeezed his hand, but Draco waited. Harry sighed.

"My cousin, and my… uncle. I'll be fifteen this summer. My aunt said not 'til I was grown up, not while I was still a kid, but I'm not a kid anymore. She won't stop them this time." Draco didn't need to see the tears to hear them in Harry's voice. He wasn't totally sure what Harry was talking about but he heard the fear so he pulled him into a tight hug the way the Gryffindor usually did for him, and soothed. Gently, slowly, he rocked them back and forth a bit.

"What won't she stop, little lion?" Harry's lower lip was trembling and, even as Draco said it, he felt the boy stiffen. Not at the nickname, but at the thought. He didn't expect Harry to tell him because it was clearly difficult just doing this but Harry took a deep breath.

"My cousin, Dudley… He said he wanted to get good… being with girls so that he can be popular. My uncle… said I might not be good for nothing after all." Draco felt his stomach churn. Rocks piled onto his chest until he couldn't breathe and he squeezed Harry's hand, not really feeling the contact but hoping it would help anyway. He couldn't do anything. Harry would go home to the pain every summer and there was absolutely nothing Draco could do about it. For the first time, he understood that fire in Harry's eyes whenever he got protective—he understood the need to shield someone else, because you couldn't defend yourself. Quietly, Draco pulled them under the invisibility cloak and wrapped Harry in his arms.

"Hush little lion it's going to be okay. I can't stop it, as much as I want to, but I can help you get through it and I can be here after. I'm sorry but that will have to be enough." Harry nodded, burying his face in Draco's chest. The sun was starting to rise. Draco cursed it for even daring to interrupt this—to take their last moments together and rush them. Especially now that it was Harry who was scared and not him.

"Okay, here's what you're going to do. Listen to me little lion, do not fight them—even when your entire body screams and your lungs burn with humiliation and fear, do not fight them. If you move too much or struggle, you'll get hurt even more. If you fight back, it becomes a game. They'll sneer and say you want it but ignore them. Make yourself limp and pliant. Relax as much as you can, and think of something else—a happy memory, or a dream. Think about that as hard as you can. Don't stop until it's over, until they leave, and only once you're alone let yourself feel it. Cry, scream, do whatever you have to. I'm going to give you something to help with the pain, use it after but use it sparingly because it's very strong and I can't get you any more." He pressed a small jar into Harry's hands. Immediately, the Gryffindor recognized it and pushed it back, protesting, but Draco let his eyes turn to steel and he made the boy take it.

"Draco, no, you need this."

"I'll be fine." That was a lie, and they both knew it, but Draco tried not to think about what he was doing. "I'll be okay. I can't use it while I'm home anyway without my father finding out. It'll help with the pain and keep anything from going too wrong. No internal bleeding, no lasting damage. You're gonna be okay, little lion, you can get through this."

Harry whimpered, pocketing the salve and clinging to Draco as if he might disappear any moment. But Draco understood that feeling completely, and mimicked him. He felt so unbelievably wrong doing this—bloody hell, he was practically teaching Harry how to be a good victim—and he wanted to scream or throw something but he couldn't let go of Harry. Minimize the pain, minimize the damage. It killed him, snaking through his veins like poison, but it was all he could do.

Suddenly, Draco was overcome with panic. Something in him just snapped and it urged him to tell Harry everything—to give him every bit of advice, every sliver of a chance that Draco possibly could, even if that information couldn't be fit into the few minutes they had left. He wanted to give Harry a chance at getting out okay. Not good, but okay. But there wasn't time, not now, and Draco kicked himself for not realizing sooner. If anyone was an expert at just enduring, it was Draco Malfoy and he was leaving Harry to fend for himself out of pure stupidity! He deserved to rot in Azkaban. There wasn't time for self-pity, though, he had to pick something and tell Harry whatever would help him most.

"Little lion, listen to me. This is very important and I need you to listen very carefully because we don't have that much time." Harry whined at the implication of them parting ways. "Harry, I'm serious. This is so important and I need to know you understand." Draco used his name purposefully, and it got his attention.

"Sorry, I'm listening." Fuck what was he supposed to say? How to get rid of the ache afterwards? How to take a hot shower and burn off their touch so he could sleep at night?

"Little lion, I want you to know that you're going to want to give up. I know you're not used to that, so it's going to be that much harder to hold on. You're going to want to slip away. Mentally, maybe, or even physically. You have to come back, though, do you understand me? You have to come back at the end of the summer and you have to come back here, to Hogwarts." Harry nodded, but Draco knew he needed another reason. A reason that wasn't for himself, or for his future, because Draco knew exactly how easy it was to give up on that. To not care about anything but ending the pain.

"Because I need you. I need you to come back, Harry, and I need you to be here at the end of summer because I don't know what I'd do without you. You're gonna want to give up but promise me. Promise me you'll be here the second I get back. Promise me." Harry nodded again, but curled into him and hugged.

"I promise, little dragon." Draco was surprised how quickly that petname worked its way into his bones. It broke down his cold exterior, it broke down the weathered, veteran facade he'd put up so Harry wouldn't be as scared. Tears poured down his cheeks. Harry wasn't much better, sobbing into his chest, but Draco just held him and Harry held him back. Together, they cried. But then the sun came up and they regretfully returned to their dorm rooms to pack, trying to hide the fact that they'd been crying from their roommates. Draco watched him slip away with a sharp sense of dread.

They boarded the train and Draco fixed his stare out the window before Blaise or Pansy could try to talk to him. Normally, he savored the last few hours of normalcy. Usually, he at least tried to postpone the sense of terror and apprehension that boiled in his stomach and threatened to choke him. But this time he was too distracted. He didn't even notice the fear, really, until he felt the train begin to slow. His mind had been so preoccupied with Harry, with imagining what was in store for the raven-haired boy over the summer holiday, that he'd forgotten to dread his own fate. He said a short goodbye to the other Slytherins, and met his father in the terminal.

It took one smile from Lucius for Draco to snap back into his reality and nearly give himself a panic attack. The smiles were worse, always. They were small and contained, the way one would expect Lucius to be about all emotions—more believable, that way—but only Draco saw the repressed anger behind those thin lips. Lucius was a very unhappy man, used to living life in shades of discontent. It was his natural state, to be upset or otherwise displeased by something, and he usually sought out or created that something if it didn't happen organically. Anger was normal. Disappointment was normal. But joy? Only Draco had ever been trained to sense danger in the man's happiness, but alarms went off like sirens. It was not going to be a good holiday.

He followed wordlessly to where his mother was waiting, all cold looks and empty smiles, and took his father's arm as they apparated. The first touch was always the worst. Draco flinched even though he was the one who'd reached out and Lucius noticed. His father's mouth turned down at the corners in displeasure, but before Draco could apologize or make up an excuse they were standing in front of the Manor. House elves appeared and took his trunk, and his things. He stepped up to follow them inside with his mother, but his father's hand flew out and caught him by the back of his robes. He was yanked to a halt.

"Aren't you forgetting something?" Shit. Draco had hoped his father would forget but of course the man never did. The taller held out a pale, slim hand.

"Your wand, Draco." He pulled the wand from his robes and handed it over, feeling his insides twist as he watched his only hope of salvation disappear into his father's pocket. His father always took his wand. He wasn't allowed to do magic outside of Hogwarts, yet, but his father knew him well enough by now to know that he would if he truly snapped. And Draco could be lethal with a wand. Without it, though, he was as good as a muggle and his father sneered at the look of horror on his face.

"Inside, now. Get changed, quickly, and meet me in my study. Your final grades have just arrived and I would like to discuss our next course of action before your mother sees them." Draco swore inside his head but nodded. Quickly, he darted inside and up to his bedroom where the house elves had already unpacked his things. He wanted to cry. A ratty pair of pajama bottoms and a T shirt three sizes too large were set out on his bed, waiting for him, and he pulled them on because he knew the consequences for being slow. The shitty clothes weren't a good sign. Draco hadn't been allowed to dress nice—at least not when company wasn't around—for several years. Getting blood on nice clothes was worse to his father than treason. Therefore, he wore shitty, muggle clothing that didn't matter if it got ruined or stained and he would continue to wear it until his father deemed him good enough. So forever, it seemed.

"Draco!" His father's bellow hit him like a punch to the gut, ironically. He choked and quickly scrambled to hide the last of what the house elves had left blatantly on his bed—two boxes of chocolates, some sweets, and half a loaf of bread he'd stolen from the great hall. Quickly, he stashed the food he'd snuck in under his bed. It wasn't much, but he knew by now that he'd need it if he was going to survive the summer because his father had made it very clear he didn't care if Draco starved. If Draco died, his father would just revive him. And start the process all over again.

"Draco I won't ask again!" He ran for the top of the stairs and nearly fell down them in his rush to get to the study. Inside, his father was waiting patiently at his desk. There was a riding crop on the table, and Draco silently thanked Merlin that it wasn't the whip but he knew that was only because his mother would be expecting him at dinner. The real punishments would come later, after Narcissa forgot about him and went back to her hobbies.

"Draco, I have to say I'm very disappointed in you."

"Sorry, father." Lucius' eyes flared but Draco was already stepping back, shrinking in on himself. Waiting for the pain. Malfoys didn't apologize, but Draco had learned a long time ago it was better to break that rule than to risk being seen as disobedient.

"It seems a muggleborn has managed to best you in nearly every subject. Can you explain why that is?" Those silver eyes, so much like his own, skirted over his body as if looking for some explanation. As if Draco had been in the hospital half the year and missed assignments, or as if Draco had suddenly been branded as an imbecile. Neither were true, which only made Lucius angrier. Draco knew by now not to answer—it was always worse if he did—so he stayed quiet and waited for the yelling. `

Sure enough, it came. Accompanied by the thwack of a riding crop. Over and over again, until Draco couldn't hear anything else and his mind narrowed to that one point.

Thwack.

Thwack.

Thwack.

Draco let the rhythm overtake him and, briefly, just for a tiny fraction of a moment, he let himself forget about the green-eyed Gryffindor. He let himself forget that Harry was suffering too. He forgot about the Dursleys, about what Harry had confessed to him in the astronomy tower, and about what he was sure Harry was enduring right that very moment. For a tiny splice of a second, Draco wallowed in his own pain. He felt it wash over him and overtake his nervous system, the way it did every time, but when it flooded into his chest, it was stopped. It coated his body and clung to his skin, but it didn't touch inside his chest. Like there was a bubble, somehow, protecting his heart and his lungs.

It was far from pleasant and the bubble was somehow almost just as painful but it was a different kind of pain that let the contrast keep Draco sane. It was different, because it wasn't his own. His fear and his shame threatened to drown him but the feeling that took over his lungs and his heart had nothing to do with his father. It was fear, too, but it was fear for his little lion.

Harry sat silently in the backseat of his uncle's car as they drove. He was crammed in with all his luggage and Hedwig, in her cage, because the front passenger seat held a small box with a present for Dudley.

"You're not a kid anymore, boy." Harry said nothing, but he knew what his uncle was hinting at because he knew that little rumble to the man's voice. "I think it's about time you earned your keep, yeah boy? I think it's time you learned some respect. After all, you're not good for nothing, are you? Not absolutely nothing." Harry stayed quiet but he felt his stomach lurch and his hands clench into fists. Hedwig hopped and purred anxiously beside him, but he ignored her because he didn't want her to see the anger in his face and think it was at her.

"When we get home, boy, you're going to behave."

"Yes Uncle Vernon." His uncle hissed, even though that was what Harry was supposed to say.

"Things are going to be different, now. None of that… freaky shit. You live in my house, under my roof, and from now on you're going to have an extra job on top of your usual chores. Dudley is going to use you for practice." Again, Harry said nothing, both because his uncle had hissed at him for speaking before and because that sentence made his blood boil, but Vernon seemed mad this time that Harry hadn't said answered.

"You think you're so smart with your fancy boarding school, boy!? Well things here are a little different. You're a freak, boy, and you're lucky that we even put a roof over your head for all the trouble you give us. This is the least you can do."

"Yes Uncle Vernon." Harry stared out the window, trying not to think about what he was actually saying yes to. It wasn't like he had a choice, but it still made him want to throw up that he was agreeing to it just to keep his uncle happy.

"Don't give me that lip!" Harry slunk back in the leather seat and absentmindedly stroked Hedwig's cage. "You see this box here? This present for my darling Duddy? It's a key, freak, for the lock on your door so don't think for a second that you can just shut us out the way you did last summer. You owe us everything. If you want to eat, you'll behave yourself. And if you hurt our precious Duddykinz?" His uncle looked back, meeting his eyes with large, angry saucers and red cheeks. "I'll make you regret ever showing up on our doorstep alive, understood?"

"Yes Uncle Vernon."

Harry was able to stay under the radar, for the most part, for his first few days back with the Dursleys. Dudley hadn't quite finished school yet and Vernon still went to work, which left him with his Aunt Petunia for most of the day. She made him do chores, and she yelled. But he could tell she felt bad about not intervening anymore because she gave him an extra helping at lunch and snapped that she would mend his clothes if Harry couldn't do it properly himself.

That was the last day of Dudley's schooling, though, and it was that night that Vernon unlocked his door and let Dudley into his room. His uncle stayed, as if daring Harry to do something wrong. Harry just stayed in his bed, though, and watched his cousin approach uncertainly, Vernon coaxing him every few seconds. But Dudley tried the man's patience for too long. With a groan of annoyance, Vernon stepped up and ripped off the covers and tore Harry's clothes from his body. Dudley stared at him.

"What do I do with him, daddy?" Vernon growled something about just stick it in and quickly left, but Harry knew he hadn't gone far. Just because he didn't want to watch didn't mean he trusted Harry not to hurt Dudley, so he stayed nearby and ready to rush in just in case. Dudley stared at him, gawking like he'd never seen someone naked before.

He was eager, though, Harry could see that and he tried not to let it bother him. Lazily, Harry laid back down on his bed and just waited, as if he was bored, but secretly he tried to quell the panic rising in his chest. Some part of him had never really believed they would do it. They were horrible, yes, and both liked to hit him but they were still family. This was incest, at the very least. Vernon didn't seem to care, though, so Dudley didn't seem to care either. Harry just waited.

After a minute, Dudley approached and pushed him onto his stomach on the bed. Harry let him, trying to picture Draco and everything he'd said that night in the astronomy tower. Don't fight, if you fight it becomes a game. So Harry didn't fight, he just laid there and let Dudley poke at his asshole. Dudley straddled him and tried to push his cock in, but it was too dry and Harry was too tight so Dudley ended up just stopping.

"It won't go in." Harry didn't consider it his duty to help the boy. Dudley yelled for his father, and Vernon asked through the door what had happened. When Dudley told him, he growled and threw in a bottle of lube, muttering about forgetting and how stupid it was that Harry wasn't just a girl because that would be so much more convenient.

"You're a freak." His cousin sounded less confident, less sure, but the insult solidified the fact that they were not friends. Now coated in lube, Dudley lined himself up again. Harry could guess that it would hurt and he tried to relax the way Draco had told him to, even going so far as to hug a pillow to his chest and bury his face in it, but nothing could have prepared him for what it actually felt like. Dudley thrust into him all at once and Harry screamed. It burned and seared his insides and his asshole and he felt like his muscles themselves were ripping in half, over and over again with every movement.

For such a small dick, it felt ginormous. And, even worse, Dudley was inexperienced and had no concern for what Harry felt because the sudden rush it apparently gave him made him nearly frantic for more. He thrust quickly and unevenly into Harry, ignoring the sobs that shook the smaller boy's frame. Dudley stuttered and moaned, unattractively, as he sped up. It must have been only a few minutes before Dudley came, but it felt like years to Harry. When it happened, it sent a whole new burning sensation through him and he squirmed on the bed as if he could escape it by thrashing or screaming enough. Dudley pulled out of him, and exclaimed in disgust.

"Daddy! The freak bled on me!" Sure enough, his cousin's prick was covered in blood, which now dripped from Harry's hole down his legs as well. Vernon bellowed, but ultimately didn't come in. Dudley left, disgusted, and Harry assumed he was going to clean himself up but somehow that didn't help. His entire body was shaking. It hurt so fucking bad, so much worse than he'd imagined, and it didn't stop when Dudley did.

I'm going to give you something to help the pain. Relieved, he remembered the small jar still tucked away in his trunk and rolled to get it, yelping when the movement made the pain worse. He dug around in the trunk until he found it. With one hand, he unscrewed the lid and lightly coated his pointer finger in the salve before tucking it back into its hiding place. Tentatively, he probed the finger at his ass.

Harry screamed, a real scream, because he was not expecting such a soft touch to hurt so badly but no one came to investigate. He was determined to follow Draco's instructions, though, so he grabbed his pillow. With his face firmly buried, he again trailed his finger lower and he screamed at even the slightest touch but he trusted Draco—he knew Draco was telling the truth—so he steeled himself and shoved his finger inside him. The pain made his vision go black, but he held it there. And, gradually, it began to ease.

From the original sharp, burning pain that seared his insides, it dulled into an ache. Like a headache in his gut, he thought, and somehow that made it more bearable because Harry had dealt with headaches his entire life. He could handle a headache, even if it wasn't in his head. Carefully, he moved his finger a bit inside himself and hissed when the burning returned, but it disappeared faster this time. He continued, moving every time he could brace himself enough to bear it. After a while, there was no more burning. The ache persisted but Harry felt like he could handle that, at least, so he withdrew his finger and smeared the remaining salve over his asshole itself. As he did, he felt the huge tear Dudley had ripped in the tight ring of muscles. He continued to scream, but Draco's voice in his head coaxed him to keep going and he massaged the salve into the wound until it closed, and then until it had mostly healed.

With that done, Harry let his body go limp again. He sank into the mattress and sobbed into the pillow because his entire body felt wrong and violated and used but there was nothing he could do about it. His finger was still coated in blood and cum, but he pretended not to notice. He wasn't ready to get up, his legs were still shaking too much and his entire being felt unsteady, so he pretended it wasn't there and just made sure not to touch the bedding.

Harry needed a distraction, he decided. He couldn't get up and he wasn't going to risk going downstairs but he needed something else to think about. The way he used to fiddle with things to avoid thinking about the headaches. This was the same thing, except the ache wasn't in his head so he could actually let himself think rather than having to find something physical to do.

Draco was in pain, too, he was sure of it and it didn't help to think about. Harry had seen the lashings Lucius had given the blond after last summer and he wasn't eager to see the damage this time, but he knew it would be there. He didn't like to think about why Draco could give him advice like he had… But the implication was there. In lieu of focusing on the ache slowly making it way out into his hips, Harry tried to figure out who it could be that was hurting Draco the way Dudley had just hurt him. He didn't have any siblings or cousins, as far as Harry knew, and the house elves wouldn't have dared. Briefly, Harry considered Narcissa or Snape but one was too apathetic to enjoy that kind of torture and the other wasn't around Draco enough to be the perpetrator. Which left Lucius.

For some reason that Harry couldn't quite name with his half-awake brain, the fact that it was Lucius bothered him more than any other possible suspect. Maybe it was because Draco had always seemed so close with father, so ready to defend him. Or maybe because Harry had been jealous of their closeness for years. If only he'd known… But a larger part of him said it bothered him so much because he knew it would change the way Draco saw himself. The Slytherin was his father's spitting image, and Harry guessed that that had to hurt. If not because Draco saw his father whenever he caught half a glimpse of his reflection, then because Draco would undoubtedly look for similarities and see himself becoming the man who hurt him.

It made sense, in some sad way, that Draco had always been the one afraid of physical contact. Harry had thought, at first, that it was just because abuse had that kind of effect on a person but Draco had allowed it, even welcomed it, and then seemingly just flipped a switch at the oddest moments. He could imagine, now, that it was because Draco was afraid of hurting him. Afraid that that closeness would somehow unlock the part of him that was like his father and make him hurt Harry. He would talk to the blond about that when they got back, Harry decided.

When they got back.

Harry wasn't sure when it had changed from just him, to them. He had assumed for a long time that the other kids at Hogwarts considered Hogwarts the strange place, and welcomed going back to their families at the end of the school year. For him, though, it had always been the other way around. Hogwarts was his safe place, his home, and even with all the drama and political shit that went down it was better than the Dursleys by far. At Hogwarts, he was loved. And, at some point over the last year, Harry had begun to lump Draco in with that idea as well. At Hogwarts, they were loved. Because at Hogwarts they had each other.

He hadn't realized how much he would miss the blond, even just seeing him in the hallways or across the great hall during dinner. It was strange, but, as much as he missed their nightly talks, he missed just casually seeing him more. Because their talks were… intimate. They were close, but Harry knew he couldn't realistically think that would last. But just seeing Draco around school? There was a sense of purpose, of protection and security, in knowing there was someone nearby who understood. Even if they didn't talk about it, even if they pretended to hate each other. At least he was there.

But here, with the Dursleys, Harry was completely alone. The dull ache in his gut reminded him he had Dudley, but that whole mess was very different. Because Draco cared. Draco had given him the salve instead of keeping it for himself, Draco had taught him as best he could to survive the pain, Draco… understood. That was what it came down to, ultimately. Draco was the only person in the entire world that Harry had willingly told about the abuse, and Draco was the only person who completely understood. In every sense of the term, Draco understood what Harry was going through.

Halfheartedly, he stroked Hedwig through her cage and considered sending a letter to Draco in parseltongue, just to tell him everything would be okay. He could thank him for the advice and the salve, and not worry about anyone else being able to understand it. But, he reminded himself, someone had taught Draco parseltongue. That person might very well work for, or be, Lucius Malfoy. And Lucius would kill Draco if he even caught sight of the famous Harry Potter's owl heading towards Malfoy Manor, so Harry turned his back on the bird to try and sleep.

Mentally, Harry crossed off a day on his calendar. Five weeks and six days left until he could go back to Hogwarts. Until he could go back to Draco.

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