McGonagall threw a book at his head. Crabbe punched him in the stomach. Goyle shoved him into a wall. Lavender slapped him. Cho hit him with her brookstick. Hermione yelled abuse from her window as he left the grounds. The Weasley twins attacked him in the corridor, and to the wild cheers of onlookers, which included three members of the faculty staff, had ripped his clothes to shreds, blackened both his eyes and given him a bloody nose. Hagrid set four wild pigs on him Draco had barely escaped their eager snouts with his manhood intact.
To top it all off, four house elves had sought him out, and spat into his face.
Staggering his way up the path to the massive Malfoy manor, Draco's mind was a wreck. His bad dream had become a nightmare he couldn't escape and his whole body ached from the various tortures the Hogwarts pupils and teachers had devised. He was black and blue, his lip was bleeding, and he was sure the bites on his legs would scar.
At least they didn't see me cry, he thought. At least I didn't give them that satisfaction.
How could everyone have turned on him at once? Draco wondered. What had he done? It had all started with that bloody Quidditch match how Draco cursed himself for winning it now. In a fit of rage he'd thrown the damned snitch out of the train window on the way home, but instead of zipping off into the sky as snitches were supposed to, the golden ball had zoomed straight back through the open window, and settled on his shoulder like an infuriatingly devoted familiar.
In fact, no matter how hard he threw the snitch, or were he left it, it always came back to him with boomerang speed. Perhaps Harry was right the first time the snitch had been fixed, somehow. But what did that matter now? It was just another reason to despise himself his glorious win was now tainted with the suggestion of fraud.
He'd no idea how his father would react to his expulsion. Oh, Narcissa would cry and baby him and then take him out for a nice dinner somewhere to cheer him up, but Lucius? Lucius was an unknown quantity he'd either break every bone in his son's body, and then disown him or disown him, and then kill him. And given the way the whole world was treating him these days, Draco didn't expect anyone to give a damn if he died.
Except for Potter. Bloody stupid Potter. It was pathetic the way the boy had grovelled in the Slytherin chambers, professing his love/lust with such repulsive honesty it made Draco feel sick to his stomach. How could people do that? he wondered; How could they come out with such ridiculous speeches even when they were assured they'd be rejected?
No, if Draco Malfoy ever fell in love with anyone something which he'd decided firmly at age four he'd never be stupid enough to do he definately wouldn't spill his guts to the object of his affection. If Draco Malfoy ever fell in love, he'd keep the knowledge secreted away in that dark quiet place he kept all the things which hurt him, repressed deep in his subconscious where even he couldn't hope to reach it.
He hoped against hope he'd come across Narcissa first, as he dragged his wounded body through the long entrance hall, dropping his suitcase in the centre of the floor. But his long running unlucky streak had evidently chosen not to desert him yet and when he passed through the corridor toward his room, he heard the shuffle of papers from Lucius' study.
Draco paused, uncertainly, a few steps away from the open door. He could keep running from it, he supposed in fact, given the size of the manor, Draco supposed he could go a month, easily, without bumping into his father but sooner or later he'd have to face Lucius and get it over with. Bracing himself, Draco knocked on the wall beside his father's door.
"D-Draco? Is that you?"
Lucius sounded Draco blinked almost afraid. Something strange was up on the home front Draco had never heard his father show his feelings so obviously before. Perhaps Voldemort himself had dropped in for a coffee and a quick pillage, Draco thought, morosely. With the way his life had been spiralling downward lately, Draco couldn't dismiss such an unlikely tribulation as a fantasy.
He peered round the door. "Yes, father. It's me."
Lucius dropped a flurry of papers onto his desk, blanching.
"Sorry! Sorry I didn't realise you were home. I'll have the house elves make you dinner, shall I? I'm a horrible father, I know I'll try to make it up to you."
"Er.." said Draco.
"My head must have been elsewhere. I'm hopeless, really." Lucius raised his wand, with a word of summons to the nearest house elf. "Apart from dinner, what else would you like? I can't promise everything, but I'll try my best. You can see I'm trying, can't you, Draco?"
"Er," said Draco. "Yes, father. Maybe too hard, actually."
"I can't do anything right," said Lucius, burying his head in both hands. "I try so hard to please you, but I can't live up to your expectations. I don't even know what you want from me. I can't be what you need, Draco. I'm not strong enough. I'm not good enough."
"Er. You aren't drunk, are you?"
"All I want is for you to love me," cried Lucius. "I'm your father! Doesn't that mean anything to you? I am what you made me be!"
"Er. I do love you, father," said Draco, shifting uncomfortably. In the past he'd wished that Lucius could be a little more friendly towards him the odd smile or two wouldn't have gone amiss. But an overly emotional Lucius, he was swiftly discovering, was far more disconcerting than a patronising and estranged Lucius could ever be. "Quite a lot. Er. Father, please stop hitting yourself with that book."
Lucius threw the tome angrily against the wall. The pages burst from the spine, fluttering through the sudden silence between them. Draco gulped. This was it, he thought. My father's finally cracked. He began to edge for the door, but the untimely entrance of the summoned house elf blocked this avenue to escape.
"My son," cried Lucius wildly at the house elf, "wants his dinner!"
The elf chittered in response, and then, turning to scamper off again, aimed a sharp kick at Draco's already sore shin. Draco yelped, the house elf snickered, and Lucius roared profanities, raising his wand. Draco didn't hear the word his father bellowed, but a second later the unfortunate house elf was transformed into a small, rather ugly fish with dull brown scales.
The two Malfoys, senior and junior, watched as the fish gasped airlessly into extinction. Lucius wore a triumphant expression idioticly so.
"There, son. He won't give you any more trouble."
"Um," said Draco, and looked at his nails.
"You aren't happy with me, are you, Draco," said Lucius, softly, slumping back into his armchair.
"Not unhappy. Just a little bit confused," Draco whispered. There it is, he thought. The understatement of the bloody year.
"I can't please you, can I," and Lucius' hands were over his eyes again, the man's wirey body bent forwards. He seemed on the very verge of tears.
This strange but apparently genuine display of weakness from Lucius brought a sudden rage to the younger Malfoy. "Oh, come on, father," snapped Draco, looking up. "Don't pretend you really care for me. Don't even try to act as if you're suddenly interested in my life. You didn't even come to congratulate me after I won the Quidditch match. Against Harry Potter, no less!"
"I was scared," Lucius admitted in a quaver, to his open-splayed palms.
"You were what?"
"I was scared. I thought you might reject me again. I didn't think I'd be good enough for you. I wanted to but I couldn't. I didn't want to get hurt again."
"Scared? Hurt? Reject you? What the"
Draco broke off, stunned. Lucius Malfoy, ex-Death Eater and master of the Malfoy patriarchy, was weeping, his form wracked with gulping, noisy sobs so great his tall frame couldn't contain them, the tears of a man who hadn't cried before in his entire life.
"Father.." Draco whispered. He stepped forwards, and laid his hand on the arm of his father's chair.
"I hate myself for failing you," Lucius stuttered, through his tears.
"Don't. Don't. I should hate myself," Draco's own voice was choked. Malfoy's never cry, he told himself, furiously a desperate mantra. "I just never seem to be good enough for you, that's all. I wish I was I wish I could help you. I wish you could be proud of me, I wish that maybe you'd show it. I'm sorry I don't want to hurt you. And you've never failed me, father. Never."
But Lucius only wept harder at this admission, and Draco didn't know what to do or rather he did, but the fear of a condescending rebuff kept him at bay. He let out a hoarse whimper, too scared to reach for his father, and his father too scared to reach for him.
"Oh god," Lucius said softly. "What have I done?"
The next few moments carried with them a surreal quality, and Draco was never sure which one of them had moved first. It happened in an instant: suddenly they were clasped together in a clumsy embrace, father and son, all a tangle of thin elbows and sharpness the Malfoys were never made for hugging. But somehow they managed it, there in the brightness of the study, looking for all the world like some overplayed melodrama of a long overdue family reunion.
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